The NFL Combine news was dominated by the apparent behind the scenes jockeying between the Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers over the draft round value of veteran quarterbacks Nick Foles of the Eagles and Alex Smith of the 49ers. In between all this mystery the usual number of Alabama prospects announced on the eve of the Combine that they had undergone surgery or were about to undergo surgery, most notable this year running back Eddie Lacy and cornerback Dee Milliner. Height also seems to be an issue with Alabama players every year. Last year Trent Richardson was revealed, to no one’s surprise, that he was an inch shorter than advertised. This year it was the All American Milliner, perhaps the best player in the draft. Manti Te’o held a huge press conference and apparently assuaged the worries of middle aged males that his virgin life style did not mean he was gay, even though the league’s corporate position is that it does not discriminate against, or condone, discrimination against gay Americans. I wonder if Tim Tebow was asked that several years ago. Te’o ran a terrible 40 yard dash, 4.83, to add to his stress. Yet he is an inside linebacker and that was a lot faster than Brandon Spikes of Florida ran several years ago, and Spikes makes a living in the middle for the Patriots. Star Lotulelei, considered the best defensive player most of the year, was diagnosed with a possible heart ailment and therefore is omitted from this mock draft. Another first round exclusion is Jarvis Jones of Georgia, the best pass rusher prospect, who made the remarkable acknowledgement that, doctors may not clear him to play, and he has come to terms with that possibility. Some of the players who made surprising performances at the Combine and thus elevated their draft status, according to those who know these things, were Arkansas Pine Bluff offensive tackle Terron Armstead, LSU running back Michael Ford, South Carolina tight end Justice Cunningham, Michigan State running back Laveon Bell, Arkansas tight end Chris Gregg, Missouri linebacker Xavier Gooden, UCONN linebacker Trevardo Williams, Utah defensive end Joe Kruger, Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton, Auburn defensive end, Corey Lemonier, Texas A&M receiver Ryan Swope, Georgia defensive end/linebacker Cornelius Washington, and Florida A&M linebacker Branden Hepburn.
Now to the specifics-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M; the behind the scenes strategy continues under Andy Reid and the new management. Now Florida defensive tackle Sheriff Floyd is said to be in their sights. Now they are simply looking at 303 players to find the best one for the chiefs, says GM John Dorsey. All this to get a quarterback that can be protected by Joeckel.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama: the gossip has been about the Jaguars drafting that long elusive edge rusher or dominant defensive tackle, but new coach Gus Bradley says he will build the Jags around speed. He needs two corners and so he selects the best and fastest one, despite Milliner’s upcoming shoulder surgery. Despite the torn labrum, Milliner ran lights out at the Combine.
Oakland Raiders: Bjoern Warner, DE, Florida State: Since the Raiders are making the difficult transition from a motorcycle gang to a corporate athletic company, you never can guess what they are up to. I’ll try. Warner will be a reliable run stopper and will put pressure into the backfield for a long time to come. An un Raiders like safe pick, in other words.
Philadelphia Eagles: Barkevius Wingo, DE, LSU: The Eagles spent the days of the combine pretending that they could immediately assemble an offensive line that could protect the stationary quarterback Nick Foles. Of course, nobody believed them but it was sure entertaining. Since the Eagles have spent the last four months giving away their pass rushers it must be time to get a new one. Wingo tested off the charts at the Combine. He was fast to begin with. Now he is even faster. He did not have the production at LSU that I am looking for, but I don’t own the Eagles or any other team.
Detroit Lions: Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon: How did the Lions get so bad last year when it looked as if they were finally getting good? They could not win close games and, unlike college football, margin of win or loss does not matter. Their pass rush is awful and their secondary is awful and because the best pass rushing prospects are early in the draft the Lions pick one, albeit one that will be heading to training camp after surgery.
Cleveland Browns: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: The long and short at the Combine was that Geno Smith was no good, the other quarterbacks were no good, at least not first round good. Pretty soon there will be calls to eliminate the quarterback position because there are so few good ones. Until then, new Browns owner Jimmy Haslam seems to be chomping at the bid to find an upgrade from Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy. To do so in the draft means drafting Geno Smith.
Arizona Cardinals: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan: So confident are the Cardinals that other NFL teams are not taking quarterbacks in the first round that they have decided not to as well, and believe Matt Barkley will be sitting around in the second round. Hint to Cardinals. If you want E.J. Manuel of Florida State, you better draft him here, because the Eagles draft ahead of you and they are taking Manuel in the second round.
Buffalo Bills: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas: The Bills GM Buddy Nix says he wants to draft a franchise quarterback this year. Nix is also an historian and knows Arkansas quarterback Joe Ferguson was a franchise quarterback for the Bills. What a coincidence!
New York Jets: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame: Yes, tight ends are not supposed to be drafted this high, according to rules invented by Todd McShay or Paris Hilton or somebody, but the Jets desperately need the best tight end available to both block and catch the ball, and perhaps even collect tickets at the turnstiles. And as reported, Jarvis Jones has not been cleared to play.
Tennessee Titans: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma: The Titans are slowly sinking into the Cumberland River and need help everywhere on both sides of the ball. Jake Locker simply does not have the accuracy to start in the NFL. But in the meantime while he runs around he needs a better offensive line. Lane Johnson has been on fire since he was Oklahoma’s lone bright spot in the whipping by Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. He starred at the Combine. His upside is, well, very up.
San Diego Chargers: DeMontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M: The Chargers would have liked a tackle here but, as my mother used to say, you can’t have everything in life you want. The best tackles, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson, are off the board, and instead of drafting Alabama’s DJ Fluker, the Chargers continue to rebuild the defense. And have faith that it was a one game aberration when Moore got buried by Johnson in the Cotton Bowl. And faith that his Combine was an aberration as well.
Miami Dolphins: Zach Ertz: Yeah, yeah, Cordelle Patterson makes a lot of sense here, but here will not be here in April, because Mike Wallace or some other such receiver will be there and rich in South Beach, and the Fish badly need to upgrade from Fasano at tight end.
Tampa Bay Bucs: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State: the Bucs continue to rebuild the secondary that once won the Super Bowl.
Carolina Panthers: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida: How does Floyd fall so far so soon when he has done nothing wrong? Good question. Gravity, I suppose.
New Orleans Saints: John Hankinson, DT, Ohio State. The Saints may lose another critical piece of their Super Bowl winning offensive line, Jerome Bushrod, the left tackle, but with the best tackles gone, they begin rebuilding the defensive line via Ohio State’s John Hankinson, and hope he was not a one year wonder in Columbus.
St. Louis Rams: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama: Speaking of faith, any team thinking that Warmack will still be available at 16 has to be living on faith. Many mocks put a receiver here but priority one in St. Louis is keeping quarterback Sam Bradford in one piece. This year Jeff Fisher is not fooling around. He’s going to make sure he protects Bradford.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Kenny Vaccaro, FS, Texas: Vaccaro, I’m told, is the best safety in the draft. As a Texas alum, I wish I could believe it, but I don’t. Nonetheless the Steelers do any that’s what counts. Their secondary is old and getting slower by the year. With the best cornerback gone, the value driven Pittsburgh franchise selects their best safety.
Dallas Cowboys: Ezeckiel Ansah, DE, BYU: The irrepressible Jerry Jones prides himself on misleading the press and fans about players he is obviously going to draft out of need. Right now he intends to draft an offensive lineman. Yet Jones does not have a rigid mind. He is the son of amusements park owners and he operates the biggest football amusement park in Texas, Cowboys Stadium. By April 26 his scouts will convince him that not only does the raw BYU rusher Ezeckiel Ansah have the best measurables and upside in the draft, but will also provide the most entertainment value for his sacks.
New York Giants: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Mizzou: As always, an incredible talent has fallen into the lap of the Giants without them really trying. How do they do it? Richardson was the best rusher in the best conference, the SEC, for starters. As they say, he has a motor that won’t quit. Furthermore, Giants coach Tom Coughlin takes it personally that his defense has been literally run over. Even in their Super Bowl run, two years ago, they were not so hot against the run. Coughlin has had enough. The buck stops with Sheldon Richardson. Or maybe it starts there. I can never get these clichés right.
Chicago Bears: Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame: It’s kind of hard to be the Chicago Bears when your identity, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, is a former shadow of himself, and may even leave Chicago. Te’o may not be NFL fast like Urlacher, but he can tackle, and that’s what the Bears do. And have always done.
Cincinnati Bengals: Alec Ogletree, OLB, Georgia: The breathless story about the Bengals this week was that they will pass on Ogletree because of a recent brush with the law. The Bengals pass on a player because of a brush with the law? Ha, ha, ha, next joke, please….
St. Louis Rams: DJ Fluker, OT, Alabama: As I just said, long ago, 6 picks preceding this one, Rams coach Jeff Fisher is not fooling around about protecting Sam Bradford.
Minnesota Vikings: Cordelle Patterson, WR/KR, Tennessee: The Vikings are saying all the right things about keeping Percy Harvin in Minnesota, but those who know about these things claim the marriage has irreconcilable differences and a divorce is imminent. If so, Cordelle Patterson provides both receiving and kick returning skills to replace Harvin.
Indianapolis Colts: Jonathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia: As the Colts now work to rebuild the defense, after retooling the offense in last year’s draft, they have a good amount of money under the salary cap, as I understand it, and I expect them to mend the secondary in free agency. I think the front defensive line repair begins in the draft.
Seattle Seahawks: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama: A big play receiver is also an option here, but I’m guessing Pete Carroll goes with the Aussie with the big upside on the defensive line first.
Green Bay Packers: Matt Elam, SS, Florida: The Packers could very well pull the trigger at this spot by finally taking a running back who could be a franchise mainstay, such as Eddie Lacy. But Lacy announced on the eve of the Combine that he had a torn hamstring. Given the priority of passing instead of running in the Packers offense, I’m convinced they have to replace the great Charles Woodson at safety first. And since the best safety in the draft, the hard hitting Matt Elam, is available, it is a match made at Radio City Music Hall, if not heaven.
Houston Texans: DeAndre Hopkins, WR/KR, Clemson: Like a circling crocodile, the Texans have considered a big time companion to their great slot receiver Andre Johnson for years. Yet they seem to get distracted at the last second, and shore up another position. This is the year they finally go for the kill and get another first rate receiver—and a potential big time returner as well, in Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins. Tavon Austin is a possibility here too.
Denver Broncos: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington: The Broncos are claiming that the meltdown of their secondary against the Ravens in the playoffs has all been forgiven and they are now turning their attention to finding defensive tackles. Like in any business, actions speak louder than words and the Broncos fired their secondary coach. Next they take the best cornerback available, the brother of several other NFL cornerbacks, Desmond Trufant.
New England Patriots: Blidi Wreh-Wilson, UCONN: Why is Bill Belichick such a genius? Because he was born in Nashville? Because he was graduated from Wesleyan? Because he drinks the water in metropolitan Boston where there are several million colleges? Actually, Belichick may have taken something from Baltimore Orioles Manager Earl Weaver when he was an intern starting out with the Baltimore Colts. Weaver never became friends with his players because he knew some day he may have to trade them. Belichick seems to have taken this dispassionate approach to another level, considering the drafting and trading of players like a car company executive figuring in the cost of lawsuits that will ensue from deaths resulting from the use of the manufactured vehicles. Wreh-Wilson is in fact no mystery to football fans who follow the defense-dominated Big East. Yet he is not well known nationally and will be a surprise to many when the Patriots take him on the first night of the draft.
Atlanta Falcons: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama: The team just cut starting running back Michael Turner. Jacquizz Rodgers, all 5 feet 6 of him, is not an every down back. Tight end Tony Gonzalez seems to be at least leaning toward coming back for another year. The good tight ends are already spoken for anyway. There are only a few good running backs in this draft. Since the Falcons are a run-first team, this is no time to fool around. Alabama running back Eddie Lacy is the best all around running back. He has a hamstring tear, but all Alabama running backs have injuries this time of year; it is their custom.
San Francisco 49ers: Tavon Austin, WR/KR, West Virginia: Despite trying to put on the best face for their disastrous 2012 draft, including taking receiver A.J. Jenkins in the first round, in spite of the consensus that he was at best a second round pick, and maybe a third, the 49ers need to address their lack of deep threats. Michael Crabtree is just not going to be the super star everybody imagined. Last year’s stop gap measures of acquiring Randy Moss and Mario Manningham did not help much as Moss simply did not get the ball and Manningham got injured. Braylon Edwards was hurt too and finally released. With the best corners off the board and with Ted Ginn’s future as a return man also in doubt, it is a no-brainer to take the speedy kick returner who catches everything thrown his way, Tavon Austin.
Baltimore Ravens: Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU: Other than giving another testimonial to Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, it seems most appropriate simply to take the retired Ray Lewis’s successor. The Ravens were probably not going to draft Manti Te’o anyway, but John Harbaugh’s very public disappointment at Te’o 4.83 40 time at the Combine most likely sealed the deal.