Pace & Shaner Mock the 1st round of the 2013 NFL Draft

My buddy Pace and I mock drafted the first round over e-mail starting a few weeks ago. We made all the picks within a couple days going back and forth, him taking odds and me taking evens, then we spent the next couple weeks justifying each pick we had made, and also responding to each other's picks. We thought we'd post it as FanPost to FG for shits and giggles since we couldn't help but slip into the 12th Man perspective here and there. Hope you guys enjoy it...and for the record, I had the Bills taking Nassib at 8th almost a month ago...Todd McShay, eat your heart out!

Sorry if I mess up on the pagination, as the Preview Post isn't working for me right now for some reason.

Round 1, Pick 1
Kansas City Chiefs select Luke Joeckel, Tackle, Texas A&M

Pace: I know, I know… this is about as shocking as finding out the Colts were printing Luck jerseys before last year’s combine.

The Chiefs are possibly the most talented team in league history with the first pick in the draft. They are returning a Pro Bowl Running back, 4 Pro Bowlers on defense, and one on special teams. They just traded for the best backup Quarterback since Steve Young, and re-signed one of the most physically dominating receivers in the league. At the start of free agency they had a franchised left tackle, and a right tackle that was their best overall lineman last year. Tackle wasn’t a position of need.

Prior to the release of right tackle Eric Winston, I believed they should pick Chance Warmack, the guard from Alabama. Maybe Warmack isn’t as good as advertised, or maybe Andy Reid doesn’t want competition as who has the best belly on the team, but the Chiefs seem committed to their second round pick from last year, Jeff Allen, and newly signed Geoff Schwartz to hold up the interior line. A center will need to be drafted or signed, and there’s an outside chance the Chiefs could hit the jackpot and land Barrett Jones at the top of the third round.

Warmack was never going to be taken first overall, guards are never taken first overall, and this argument was moot the day Eric Winston was released. The word was Joeckel would be drafted to play right tackle, then moved to left tackle next year to replace Brandon Albert, who is on a one year franchise tender. Well, Albert wants a long term deal or to be traded. A long term deal means Joeckel is the right tackle for a few years, or until they find a team that would be willing to trade for Albert’s bad back and soon-to-be bad contract. If the Chiefs refuse to give a long term deal, they trade Albert for a few picks, start Joeckel at left tackle, and draft another lineman to play on the right.

Was Eric Winston really that bad? They went from having two starting tackles to potentially having none. If not Joeckel, this pick will be Eric Fisher, but you could bet the farm that a tackle is being taken first overall.

Shaner: A true shocker, indeed. Like, Star Lotuleilei’s home defibrillator-level shocker. I’ll lose sleep due to post-traumatic shock, for sure. I agree that Joeckel is off the board first, despite the fact that Fisher’s ceiling, and maybe even a couple others, may ultimately prove to be higher. His pro-ready game is too good of a bet for a team that can’t afford to miss here, and there’s not enough separation between the top three tackle prospects to warrant taking on unnecessary risk for a little bit higher ceiling. The way Joeckel dominated top 5 DE prospect Barkevious Mingo in the LSU game last season is highly enticing, and with good coaching and a talented offense that is now led by a high efficiency QB, the Chiefs offense is in position to take some big steps forward this year. When you add in that Joeckel should be better on day one of camp than Fisher, I think it’s a solid bet they go with Joeckel even with a report out now saying the Chief’s coaching staff prefers Fisher. One other interesting take I’ve encountered reading scouting reports on Joeckel is that he’s basically a clone of Matt Kalil. That’s a good thing in the sense that he’s potentially going to be a great tackle in the NFL, but I think you have to cringe a little as a Chiefs fan knowing that Kalil went fourth overall last year to the Vikings. Trading down three spots and still being able to take the top tackle would be a major windfall, but if Joeckel is indeed their guy, the Chiefs will have to take him first overall or risk missing out on him completely. On the other hand, if they like Fisher as much as Joeckel, they may feel it’s a tossup, and in that case I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Chiefs try to trade down a couple picks and take whichever one of Joeckel or Fisher is still there.

Rd 1, Pick 2
Jacksonville Jaguars select Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon

Shaner: I don’t know much about new Jags GM David Caldwell, but new head coach Gus Bradley spent the last few seasons in Seattle as their fiery (and effective) DC before agreeing to terms with Jacksonville to become their new HC around the start of the offseason. Almost every aspect of Jacksonville’s roster situation invites more questions than answers. Receiver seems to be the lone bright spot, but without a legit franchise starting QB, they’ll continue to largely go to waste for the time being. We can expect Bradley to instill a mental toughness in his team and to bring a new focus on speed and strength into the construction of his team’s defense, but how much say does he have in draft picks and other personnel decisions? Where does his influence end and Caldwell’s begin, or did Bradley manage to assure himself of an amiable relationship with his GM before agreeing to take the job? That would seem an obvious positive lesson to have taken from his time in Seattle, that a GM and HC working truly in tandem can turn around a moribund franchise badly in need of rebuilding pretty quickly. Many other questions surround the Jags’ draft, but none bigger than whether or not they should close the book on the Blaine Gabbert gambit and try to start over with a new franchise QB from this draft. If they’re definitely ready to move on from Gabbert, taking Geno Smith with the second pick to be that guy is entirely plausible, but with tons of holes and a need to maximize value with each pick, it’s unlikely they’ll use their first pick on anyone who could be described as a big gamble. That said, the Jags have so many needs on their roster that they could certainly use more than just the 7 picks, one in each round, that they currently hold. They also have no compensatory picks in this draft (really, no one wanted the Jags’ FA castoffs?? The shocks continue), so won’t be gaining picks without giving picks or players up in return. Is that second overall pick going to be attractive enough to some other team that they’ll offer the Jags enough mid- and later-round picks to make it worth their while to trade down and use the additional picks to fill multiple holes instead? For our purposes the answer is no, but much like my thoughts on the Chiefs, I’d applaud the Jags for trading down and adding more volume of talent if the trade value in return picks for the second overall is there.

With Tyson Alualu leading the hapless Jags defense with 3.5 sacks last year during what became the franchise’s worst-ever season, the Jags’ D-line is an utter joke at this point. Dion Jordan will immediately become the best pass rusher they have, and will draw double teams and create opportunities for other rushers. They’ve had no one to do that for at least the past season and it has shown with virtually no consistent QB pressure. In a division with one playoff-caliber team who will throw it down their throats (Indy) and another playoff-caliber team who will run it down their throats (Houston), Jacksonville will never catch a break on defense just because they excel in any one area. With Bradley having come from Seattle where they’ve built arguably the best defensive backfield in the NFL with only one pick from the first day of the draft, I’d be shocked to see the Jags spend a high pick on a cornerback like Dee Milliner, even if he’s worth the slot. The Jags’ divisional opponents will require them to be solid on both sides of the ball if they are going to challenge for the AFC South crown any time in Andrew Luck’s career, but expect Bradley to start with his defense as the foundation for a (hopefully near-) future winner. Many of the Jags’ linemen are young, and I expect at least a few of them to improve substantially over time under Bradley and staff’s tutelage, but they need an immediate infusion of talent and raw athleticism in their pass rush if this season will be any better in that area than the last. If Jordan’s combine performance and the growing buzz around his potential tells us anything, he should ultimately be very solid on both fronts.

Pace: I have to say, I can’t believe how shitty this team is. I would seriously consider taking Alabama over the Jags if you gave me a 3 point spread. Bradley will have his work cut out for him, but there are a few bright spots on this team. I don’t understand why they haven’t over-paid for Nnamdi Asomugha, they’re currently sitting on over $28 million in cap space, and haven’t signed an important player to date. When I found out they released Dawan Landry, lost Derek Cox to the Chargers, and letting Rashean Mathis walk, I couldn’t name a single player in Jacksonville’s secondary. And neither could you.

What I know about Gus Bradley is what we’ve seen in Seattle the last couple years. Carroll and Bradley go after unique players. It’s not enough for someone to be good all around, they have to be great at just one aspect of the game, and Bradley will feature that talent and suffer the setbacks. With this in mind, I think there are really only two choices in this year’s draft that have aspects of their game that are better than their peers. Dion Jordan and Star Lotulelei.

Jordan is a 6’7" defensive end that lit up the combine, with a ridiculous burst off the line, is better than average stopping the run, and very good at pass protection in the flat. Unless they’re willing to play him at Weak Linebacker, instead of the Leo which is expected, they would be rendering their current defensive star redundant. Jason Babin, while not as explosive as Jordan, is an undersized Defensive End that excels in getting the Quarterback. He was meant to play Leo. There’s also the wrinkle of their second round pick last year, Andre Branch, who had Combine numbers nearly identical to Jordan’s. Neither Babin or Branch are 6’7" with freakish reach, and I can’t imagine they’ll learn to grow their arms any time soon, so Jordan is still unique in this regard. While the Seahawks have shown us that depth on the line is paramount, the Jags just have too many holes to fill to enjoy the luxury of drafting Jordan. Then again, having three rushers could be devastating if they could pull it off.

Guys like Jordan don’t come around very often, but guys like Lotulelei are even more rare. He is 6’3", 320 pounds, and built like a brick shit-house, looking like the a young Casey Hampton with an explosive first step. Despite being the most unique Defensive Tackle in the draft, the heart problem that was detected during the physical at the Combine might be enough to scare them off. Lotulelei is a beast up the middle that demands double teams, creating one on one matchups for everyone else along the line. There are very few guys in the league that have the size and skill set of Lotulelei.

Whether it’s Jordan or Lotulelei, the Jags will need to nail just about every pick in the draft just to fill out their roster, since it appears free agency just isn’t an option. Let’s not forget that Carroll’s first year in Seattle had around 70 roster moves, bringing in a bunch of no-names to compete, and while it took a couple years, I would argue Seattle has the best roster in the league right now. It will take some time, but I have confidence Bradley will build a formidable roster, and it might just feature one of these two players.

Round 1, Pick 3
Oakland Raiders select Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

Pace: As long as Lotulelei is still on the board, the Raiders will take him. The Raiders lost Matt Shaughnessy, Desmond Bryant, Richard Seymour, and Tommy Kelly this off-season. That’s right. Three of the four starting defensive linemen from last year, and their top rotation player, are no longer on the team. There are problems on both sides of the ball; the Raiders have to be the hands-down favorite for the first pick next year, but a player like Lotulelei comes around so rarely that you have to jump at the chance to draft him.

The Raiders aren’t committed to a typical defensive system, utilizing both 4-3 and 3-4 lineups throughout the season. Most mock drafts seem to agree that the Raiders will be drafting a defensive lineman, whether Sharrif Floyd, Sheldon Richardson, or Lotulelei. I think Lotulelei is the most versatile lineman in the draft, and the obvious choice if the Raiders are intent on addressing the defensive line. Unlike Floyd and Richardson, he can play the zero or three technique in a 3-4, or the one or three technique in a 4-3, which makes him the most versatile defensive tackle in the draft, and one of the few versatile defensive tackles in the league.

Prior to Lotulelei’s heart condition that was discovered during the physical at the Combine, he was widely considered a top three pick in mock drafts, and some even had him going first overall. Now that he has been cleared by doctors to play, he never actually missed any games due to the condition, I think that his versatility and star potential is just too much for the Raiders to pass up.

Shaner: I have to admit, it’s nice to see the Raiders make a worthwhile investment with a high pick for a change, and especially fitting that they’d do so in a mock draft, since we know it’s highly unlikely to happen in the real world. Lotuleilei makes them instantly better on defense, both against the run and with the pass rush, and my instincts say he’s destined to become the next in a long line of Raider draft picks to waste his prime wearing the black and silver.

The great thing about Star is that he’s already good-to-great at everything that makes for a good DT. Some have questioned the consistency of his motor over the course of games, but others point out that his performances have seemed to rise to the level of higher competition with apparent ease. It’s hard for me to imagine that level of effort will be problem for him at the pro level. Not at first, at least…when he gets his bearings and finally has a good sense of the absolute clown show that he’s now starring in. maybe his effort wanes, but overall I trust that, in general, the new CBA has pretty much guaranteed any rookie worth his salt will be playing for that big second contract for the duration of the rookie contract. It’s one of the best parts of the new CBA, in my opinion.

Of course, since we’re talking Raiders here, it’s entirely likely we’re going to find out around the start of the season that this heart condition of Lotuleilei’s will have to end a promising career before it even really starts. Tragic as that would be, it’s far, far preferable to seeing him become the first player to die on the field. I’m choosing to believe that medical science has an answer for Star’s situation, and that we’ll get to see him blossom into the defensive force we mostly all believe he can be. I just hope he can play long enough to get a second shot with an actual contender.

Round 1, Pick 4
Philadelphia Eagles select Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama

Shaner: The Eagles are talented at the offensive skill positions with Jeremy Maclin, Desean Jackson, Lesean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Jason Avant, Damaris Johnson, Riley Cooper and others, but they’re likely looking to add an additional weapon or two through the draft, especially after being almost exclusively focused on the defense during Free Agency. With a total of nine additions so far, and as many as five or six of them that may start, the Eagles defense is seeing a lot of turnover, which is opportune given the likelihood of a new scheme being implemented. That said, with a relatively weak pool of offensive prospects to pick from, especially as compared to the many good defensive prospects in this draft, the Eagles will resist massive temptation to take OT Eric Fisher or G Chance Warmack here, and will instead take the talented potential shutdown cornerback, Dee Milliner, of Alabama. Miller isn’t oversized, overstrong, or overfast, but he does has an elite combination of speed, strength, and most importantly, cover- and ballhawking skills that is rarely seen in defensive prospects. He’s aggressive and has the potential to get into the head of a good receiver and shut him down for a half or even a whole game. Milliner can be scary good in the right environment and with the right coaching and mentorship.

Much like Gus Bradley in Jacksonville, I’m operating under the assumption that Chip Kelly’s decision to take the Eagles head coaching job was predicated on some specific assurance of a set degree of control over personnel decisions. So, in essence, this is the first ever NFL draft pick made by Chip Kelly. The Eagles have already been active players in the FA market this year, signing TE James Casey to pair with Brent Celek, as well as signing DT Isaac Sopoaga, S Patrick Chung, S Kenny Phillips, CB Bradlet Fletcher and CB Cary Williams, LBs Jason Phillips and Connor Barwin, and WR Arrelious Benn, who would seem to fit Kelly’s offensive preferences for speed and athleticism, and who looked promising with Tampa in 2011 before becoming the odd-man-out after the 2012 Vincent Jackson signing.

I’m not sure exactly how many changes of shorts Chip Kelly will require before he gets over the shock of Dion Jordan not being there for him to take at four, but he’ll have to gather his wits quickly to make as good a pick as Dee Milliner will be at this spot. Cornerback is a premium position in the modern NFL and the best players at the position command exorbitant salaries, meaning a shutdown corner on a rookie contract is about as valuable a commodity as there is. Having paid Nnamdi many millions to play square peg to the Eagles defense’s round hole, this is a franchise that should now be eyes-wide-open in terms of the need to get value from their cornerback position without eating up half their cap space in the process. With two incoming FAs expected to start the season at opposite corner positions in Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams, Milliner will have ready tutors on hand and a soft roster landing spot waiting for him in Philly (which is fortunate since the Philly fans will likely already be threatening to choke out his grandma if he ever gets beat over the top by Dez Bryant), while still giving him plenty of opportunity both to grow into the pro game against live competition, and ultimately to possibly step into the top corner spot on the Eagles depth chart before the season is out. Yes, he’s that good. Not that being better than Fletcher and Williams is saying that much, but it would be a feat for a rookie corner, and one I believe Milliner most definitely has in him, if given the chance.

Pace: After losing Asomougha and Rodgers-Cromartie, picking Milliner seems like the obvious choice, even if Jordan is on the board. Having three staring cornerbacks on your team isn’t a luxury any more, it’s a necessity. The only real starting spot on this team in question, prior to the draft, is the Outside Linebacker spot opposite Connor Barwin, but I think Kelly might stick with Mychal Kendricks, who is a smaller, faster linebacker out of Cal, just in his second year. If not, they will address this position later in the draft, because the chance to get a Pro Bowl cornerback for the next four years on a rookie contract is just too good to pass up.
Last year the Eagles had one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Their best lineman, Jason Peters, was lost for the year with an achilles injury before the season started, and they were never able to find a decent replacement, with injuries occurring seemingly every week across the line. One of the few things I know about Chip Kelly is that he likes his linemen in shape, running a system that is based off tiring out the opposing defensive line. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some changes to the line at some point this year or next, but for the time being, I think he is smart enough to run an offense that caters to the strengths of his players.
Am I the only person that sees through Philly’s bluffing interest in Geno Smith? Jacksonville is trying to play the same hand, but has better cards. Philly has a hell of a lot more talent on both sides of the ball, and really could use one impact player to make a push in a weak division. Yes, this division is weak. Do the Cowboys scare you? Only if your team can’t defend, or is too stupid to realize that Romo is throwing to Dez Bryant every other play. The Giants? Only if your team’s fans haven’t been making their sacrifices to the demi-god Eli Manning, who drops the fuckin’ hammer on every fourth quarter drive, and has been known to perform miraculous plays that no other human quarterback could possibly make. The Redskins were scary when we thought RGIII was the Deion Sanders of quarterbacks. Turns out team management is insisting on keeping the playing field as is, eliminating any advantage RGIII gives the team. Did you see the those two nasty hits the field laid on Griffin during the playoffs! That field should be fined! I mean really, that field even took out the Seahawks kicker and best pass rusher! That field needs to learn how to play safely, or the league should make an example of it. So, yeah, the NFC East isn’t 2009-NFC West weak, but it isn’t the smash mouth division we remember from the past.
Milliner will be shutting down Dez Bryant, Hakeem Nicks, and Pierre Garcon for the next four years and this pick will make Chip Kelly look like he should have gone pro years ago.

Round 1, Pick 5: Detroit Lions
Eric Fisher, LT, Central Michigan

Pace: The Lions will pick Eric Fisher fifth overall, which is an obvious pick, considering Jeff Backus, the Lions Left Tackle for the last decade, just announced his retirement. Prior to Backus’ retirement, this pick was certainly a defensive end after the Lions lost both starters from last year; they released Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Cliff Avril signed with the Seahawks in free agency. They signed Jason Jones to replace Vanden Bosch, but replacing Avril, one of the league’s best pass rushers, will be difficult.

Fisher got a lot of buzz at the Senior Bowl, where he impressed scouts enough for them to question whether he is better than Luke Joeckel, who we have going first overall to the Chiefs. The Lions could have an offense built around one of the best left tackles in the league, protecting one of the best quarterbacks, who is throwing to the best wide receiver. Drafting Fisher could dramatically improve this offense that is already one of the best in the league.

The question with the fifth pick is whether the Lions take the best pass rushing end in Ziggy Ansah, or arguably the best left tackle in Eric Fisher. To produce the rush, or stop the rush, that is the question.

Shaner: Fisher is without a doubt too much to pass up here for the Lions. Everything you’ve stated is established fact, so it just makes too much sense overall for the Lions not to take Fisher. Gosder Cherilus held onto his starting Tackle position, but by no means has he been a world burner, franchise-making type of RT like some thought he was coming out of Boston College, when Detriot took him with the 17th overall pick in the 2008 draft. With the Lions deciding the end that experiment at last and Cherilus subsequently moving on to Indianapolis via Free Agency, the Lions have a need at one of their starting Tackle positions. Unless Jason Fox is the guy and somehow no one knows it, Riley Reiff will be one of the starting Tackles, then Fisher would likely step right in as the starter at the other. That would leave sixth year T Corey Hilliard and Fox as backups/depth, and of course they’d likely take another T or even a swing lineman or two later in the draft for more depth. No question letting the underwhelming Cherilus leave and replacing him with Reiff/Fisher is a substantial upgrade at the T position, and given the offensive talent already in place at the skill positions, Lions fans are left looking at one formidable offense. The most intriguing question now is whether or not last season’s struggles were an aberration, or if the Lions are going to remain so maddeningly inconsistent that you honestly can’t tell whether they’re more likely to go 4-12 or 12-4. The more they do to shore up the un-sexier positions like offensive line, the more consistently good that offense is going to become. If they have to skimp on the line and at TE in the long run to pay Stafford, Megatron and others to stay in town, I think the safer bet is inconsistency in the longer-term.

Round 1, Pick 6
Cleveland Browns select DE Ezekiel Ansah, BYU

Shaner: Freak athletic specimen Ezekiel Ansah of BYU dwarfs almost every other Defensive End prospect in this draft. At a hulking 271 lbs, Ansah has the size that GM Mike Lombardi’s Parcellian philosophy favors in constructing a big, attacking group in the all-important defensive front seven. Their leading rusher had seven sacks last year, good to land them the bottom ten of the league. Having since signed Paul Kruger, arguably the best free agent DE in this year’s FA class, away from Baltimore in early March, the Browns front office has nevertheless publically refuted any suggestion that the Kruger signing means that they won’t now consider spending an early-round pick on a D-lineman. Ansah has boatloads of potential, and that might be a bit of an understatement. You can make an argument that he has the highest ceiling of any remaining player now that Fisher and Lotuleilei are off the board. He is still a bit raw, being relatively new to football in general, but he has interviewed well and has all the measurables to make an entire draft day war room full of grown men cream their culottes. The Kruger signing is easy to criticize without context, since he didn’t do much damage last season to opposing QBs when Terrell Suggs was out with injury, which is why the addition of an impact edge rusher like Ansah here has the potential to both vastly improve their pass rush and legitimize the Kruger acquisition in a way that Kruger himself couldn’t do on his own.
It’s hard to predict what Cleveland’s new executive operations group will decide to do here, but how about a moment to show some pity for the downtrodden sods that make up the Browns’ loyal fanbase? I’d love to see them have a player with Ansah’s ceiling at this draft slot to cheer for next season. Plus, what’s not to like about a non-Steelers AFC North team picking up another rusher with the potential to give Ben Roethlisberger the annual beat-down he so richly deserves?

And yet, I think the real story of this pick, at least in the context of the draft itself, is that the Browns really chickened out here by passing on QB Geno Smith. I say this because it was as much about passing on the obvious answer to the problem of how to go about putting the previous regime’s ill-conceived draft pick, "Old Man" Brandon Weeden, on the sidelines with a clipboard where he probably belongs on any serious and competitive team as it was about picking up the best remaining D-lineman in the draft. The Browns weren’t good last year, but they have more talent on their roster than the record might suggest. They have an all-world CB in Joe Haden and a tackling machine in soon-to-be 4th-year Safety TJ Ward. They have a talented and young group of WRs led by the 6’2" and-up Josh Gordon and Greg Little, each of whom are still under team-friendly rookie contracts. They also have a dynamic and powerful feature RB in Trent Richardson, and just enough talent on both lines to at least compete week in and week out. The franchise QB is the missing piece, and while youngsters like RGIII, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill, and Colin Kaepernick run wild and break records, are the Browns really prepared to wait multiple seasons for Weeden to start to meet his potential and play consistently at a high level when he’s already pushing thirty years old? He’ll be physically declining before he peaks in performance, under the best of circumstances, at least barring miracle and based on what we’ve seen from him so far. How do you say ‘Does not compute’ in draftspeak? The new Browns FO may not be perfect, but I refuse to believe they’re that naïve. They may not believe Smith is The Guy despite what many believe is ample proof he has the tools and ceiling to be a franchise QB, but they can’t believe Weeden is the answer either. I’m sure they would have jumped on Fisher or maybe even Milliner here if available, but at least they get a guy instead who could end up teaming with Kruger in one of the most fearsome D-lines in the AFC, if not the NFL as a whole.

Pace: I remember emailing you prior to the Senior Bowl and telling you to check out highlights of this kid from BYU. The injury to Chris Clemons cost the Seahawks the Super Bowl, this is a known fact. I think the guys from Myth Busters devoted a whole episode on it. The injury debuted Bruce Irvin as a 3-down end, proving what we all suspected to be true: great pass rusher, average defending the run. It wasn’t his fault that Michael Turner and Jazquizz Rodgers looked like Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen. The thought of having the tandem of Ziggy Ansah and Bruce Irvin was enough to heal the wounds of the playoff melt-down. Well, until the Senior Bowl anyway.

Ansah dominated the practices leading up to the Senior Bowl, was the MVP of the Senior Bowl, and then had possibly the best performance of this year’s Combine. With Ansah and new addition Paul Kruger, the Browns would have one of the best pairs of pass rushers in the league. The only other position that could use an upgrade would be wide receiver or quarterback, but without any real impact players at either position, at least not rated as high as the sixth pick, the Browns will give new defensive coordinator Ray Horton a unique weapon with Ziggy Ansah.

Round 1, Pick 7
Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

Pace: Prior to Carson Palmer being traded to the Cardinals, this seemed like a no-brainer. Well, if Smith was still available, and the Cardinals still had the 7th pick, which seemed unlikely on both counts. Now that the Cardinals have a starting quarterback, they don’t have to sacrifice their first pick on the next Aaron Brooks just because he’s considered the best quarterback in the draft.

Their offensive line is fuckin ridiculous, but new offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin seems to think there is something to work with here. True, Levi Brown, who some believe is their best lineman, was injured all of last year. He will be back in the lineup, assuming he can still play at the level he did during the second half of the 2011 season. Bobby Massie improved dramatically over the last half of last year, and might actually be a decent starting right tackle. That leaves the interior, featuring last year’s new comers Daryn Colledge and Adam Snyder, who looked like fat matadors for most of the season. I couldn’t even tell you who was under center last year.

With all the problems on the offensive line, the Cardinals will take Geno Smith. It’s the Arizona Cardinals we’re talking about here. This is what they do. Ideally, they would take Chance Warmack, who would immediately become their best lineman. Drafting Smith will give the team a quarterback that has the tools to run the read-option, something new general manager Steve Keim has already expressed he wants from the position.

As a ‘hawks fan, I’m hoping for this pick. An aging Palmer being pissed off about listening to the media bleat out a non-existent quarterback controversy will cause him to take bigger risks, leading to more turnovers, maybe even a butt fumble, forcing the coaching staff to answer thousands of questions about when Smith will see the field. It’s so dumb, yet so obvious.

Shaner: I don’t know if it’s ever been harder to predict the draft order of the top QB prospects. There’s little or no consensus out there on the proper order. As of the end of the NFL Combine and after West Virginia conducted their Pro Day, Smith seemed to be the closest thing to a consensus best overall QB prospect as we’ve gotten this year. But less than a week before draft day, I’m not even sure he’s been able to hang onto that small hype lead. EJ Manuel has been rising in a lot of mocks, and I’m not sure anyone outside of the Cardinals organization can say what they’re going to do with this pick. Keim is basically an unknown as their new GM…it’s hard to predict what his preferences are, and he’s been pretty tight-lipped overall about his plans for the roster, at least in terms of specifics. Going off that one tidbit about wanting a QB who can run a RO-type offense, I think Smith automatically becomes the most likely choice, if he’s still available. Will his career bear that out? Will he ever be seen in retrospect as having been worthy of the pick? If you begin and end your analysis with the statement, "It’s the Cardinals," you’re probably pretty safe putting a bunch of stupid decisions between them and stamping "FAILURE" on the cover. Either way, if the Cardinals do end up taking Smith here, I think we ultimately end up in a chicken-or-egg scenario where the primary debate is around whether Smith sucked to begin with and thus the Cardinals shouldn’t have taken him, or whether the Cardinals suck and it’s too bad they took Smith because he could’ve been great elsewhere. As with most things, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Overall I’m with you, though…as a ‘Hawks fan, I like the idea of the Cardinals pinning their future to a guy not everyone agreed was even worthy of a first round pick.

Round 1, Pick 8
Buffalo Bills select QB Ryan Nassib, Syracuse

Shaner: The last time the Bills had the 8th overall pick in the draft, they took safety Donte Whitner out of Ohio State University. It was probably the most surprising pick in the first round of that 2006 draft, mainly because few analysts had Whitner graded out as a top ten pick. Of course Whitne has done little to refute the skepticism of the masses since then about his value after going that high in the draft. He left Buffalo after five unspectacular seasons to start for the 49ers, where he’s been a dependable tackler–and potential liability in all other ways–ever since. The Bills aimed a little higher with the 8th pick this year than a one dimensional safety, reuniting Syracuse’s Senior QB Ryan Nassib with his longtime college coach, new Bills head coach Doug Marrone. Many will criticize this pick while pointing to Nassib’s small number of known deficiencies, but there are plenty of solid reasons why this pick makes sense for the Bills right now, and why Nassib may look he should have been the first QB off the board.

The big plus is that Nassib can physically make every throw an NFL QB needs to make because he has the arm strength, the fluid mechanics, and the throwing technique to make them all. He has good arm strength and puts more zip on the ball than any other QB in this draft class. While his deep ball needs a lot of work, it’s all touch, not arm strength, making up his problem with hitting receivers deep. If you watch his tape you can see him throw absolute lasers on deeper in-routes, and then he’ll hang a ball up in the air when he goes deep on a go route a couple plays later. This is coachable to a point, so it’s not the type of deficiency that should scare the Bills away here. His touch may never be transcendent on deep balls, but he should be able to learn to throw the deeper ball with the same minimal lateral arc with which he makes deep-middle throws.

Nassib’s footwork is solid and he can make pinpoint throws across the middle through or into tight coverage, and he’s shown the ability to hit receivers with a high degree of accuracy on cutbacks as well. He may never become Dan Marino with his deep ball, but he could be a legit franchise QB with less than a ton of work on it, and he has shown an ability to learn and an eagerness to improve that is encouraging for his development.

Nassib rolls out of the pocket well and also throws well on the run, and while he’s not a dual-threat QB, he can at least scramble with skill and has the tool set and overall makeup to succeed as a pocket passer in the NFL. His decision making will need to improve, primarily in terms of consistency, but the same can be said of almost every college QB prospect ever. The bottom line is that the Bills cut Ryan Fitzpatrick already, and unless they want to start Tarvaris Jackson at QB all next season, they would be wise to take a QB with their first pick if a viable option is there. This is especially true if they want to be able to start him immediately and not be sued later for reckless endangerment of a defenseless rookie. Nassib will probably still take a beating early on this year if he starts Week 1, but he showed a lot of resiliency through his college career, and praise for his toughness followed him throughout his time at ‘Cuse, so he can be expected to weather the storm if he’s coached and managed correctly.
Buffalo has been utterly hapless as a franchise since the gut-punch semi-glory days of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, Cornelius Bennett, and the gang. If only that mega-talented team had been as good in the Super Bowl as they were in Super Tecmo Bowl, perhaps the words ‘Bills’ and ‘dynasty’ could be uttered together without being followed by howls of laughter. Buffalo will need to use most of the rest of their draft picks this year to completely replenish their defense, which was downright atrocious in a zillion-point loss to Seattle "at home" in Toronto late last season and bad for most of the rest of the season. Taking Nassib with their first pick, though, is an opportunity to move this franchise into the 21st century at last. If you want to feel good about the Bills with Ryan Nassib at QB next season and beyond, go watch the Pinstripe Bowl against Geno Smith and West Virginia, played in Yankee Stadium in freezing conditions on December 29th, 2012, the last game of Nassib’s college career. In that game, Nassib took a direct shot from unblocked Mountaineers pass rusher Terance Gavin that would’ve knocked the block off a weaker QB. Nassib took one play off and came right back in to finish the game. While he wasn’t asked to do much that day with Prince-Tyson Gulley rushing for 265 yards in Syracuse’s rout of WVU, going 13-23 with 2 TDs and 1 INT, neither should Nassib be asked to carry the Bills’ depleted WR corps right away when they have perhaps the most talented 1-2 RB combination in the league. And that’s the biggest reason for optimism in Buffalo with this pick. Nassib has no physical or mechanical issues in the way of his becoming the true franchise QB the Bills have needed for so long, as do Barkley, Wilson, and every other available QB in this draft. Nassib’s only deficiencies are ones that can actually be addressed through coaching and the developmental process. The question will be more of Marrone and staff’s ability to coach Nassib up into a Pro Bowl caliber QB than it will be of Nassib’s potential or his ceiling as a starter.

If the Bills do the smart thing and really ride their current offensive stars for the next couple seasons, they will let CJ Spiller, and to a lesser degree Fred Jackson as well, run wild all over, and thus keep the majority of the pressure off of Nassib while he focuses on adjusting to the speed of the game and starting his in-game development. Tom Brady didn’t start throwing 50 passes a game and a bunch of bombs right off the bat and he’s turned out okay. This emphasis on the run will play to their strengths in terms of personnel and help mask their lack of talent at WR and QB, while giving Nassib the chance to improve his deep balls in a low-pressure environment. I’d like to see Nassib compared to Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton a year from now, which would mean he performed well enough during his first season to win the QB job outright into the future, and also played well enough to start the association of the phrase "franchise QB" with his name without the subsequent din of ridicule.

Pace: I pretty much agree on all counts. Nassib will succeed from going to a system he already knows, having the most explosive runningback in the league in Spiller, Marshall Faulk 2.0 in Fred Jackson, and the most underrated receiver in the league in Steve Johnson. The Bills would be wise to draft one of the stud tight ends in this draft in the second or third round, but the offensive line needs to be addressed as well, after losing their best lineman, Andy Levitre, in free agency. This defense already has playmakers at every level, so I wouldn’t be against focusing almost entirely on the offense this draft.

I know the Bills will get shit on for taking Nassib this early, but he’s my bet for the best quarterback of this draft when it’s all said and done. His only weakness is his deep ball accuracy, but it’s encouraging that he at least has the arm strength to make every throw, which is important for a quarterback playing in the shitty weather of Buffalo 8 times a year. Then again, I could just be aimlessly rooting for the league’s biggest underdog.

Round 1, Pick 9: New York Jets
Jarvis Jones, OLB/DE, Georgia

Pace: I’ve gone back and forth on this pick more than any other in this mock up to this point. If I were running the team, I would take Chance Warmack, who would play between All Pros D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold, giving the Jets an offensive line to rival San Francisco’s.

When the Jets made back to back AFC Championship Game appearances, they did so with a strong running game behind a dominant offensive line, leaving a young Mark Sanchez responsible for limiting turnovers in between hand-offs. The last couple years they seemed to have drifted from that game plan, as Shonn Green wasn’t up to the task of being a feature back, key players along the line were sidelined with injuries, and the coaching staff seemed to think Sanchez was growing into a franchise quarterback. With their best player, Darrelle Revis, sidelined two years in a row due to injury, the defense started showing their age, giving up more points per game, requiring the offense to score more points, putting more pressure on an already overwhelmed Sanchez.

The Jets won’t take Warmack because there are so many other needs on this team, and they can get away with average play from the guards because the tackles and center are so good. This defense needs play-makers. Assuming Revis isn’t traded, the combination with Cromartie is one of the best in the league, but the center of the secondary needs to be addressed at both safety positions. Linebacker positions need to be addressed across the board as well, especially a pass rusher, which makes this pick relatively easy.

Jarvis Jones was without a doubt the best outside linebacker in the country last year, and if there weren’t questions about his spine disintegrating, he might have been taken second overall. He played in a 3-4 system at Georgia, dominating the opposition in the toughest division in college football. I have a feeling that the Jaguars will regret passing up Jarvis Jones next year, who is my bet for defensive rookie of the year.

Shaner: Ahhhh the Jets. My favorite soap opera since the original 90210 was still on the air. Between The Butt Fumble, Rex Ryan’s foot fetish, the omnipresent Tebow circus, and the worst starting QB contract in the league, there’s so much to cry about these days for Jets fans. And for the rest of us to laugh at, of course. The team isn’t totally bereft of talent, so there’s some reason for optimism. The acquisition of John Idzik from Seattle has already started to help right the ship. Ruthless cap moves have to precede and then continue to be a fundamental the rebuilding process, and it’s equally as important to maximize the value of your draft picks to give the team a fresh infusion of low-cost, team-controlled talent. The more of these guys you can get away with in the starting lineup, the better and faster a turnaround you’re going to see. Jarvis Jones fits this model perfectly. He’s a guy talented enough to step right into the starting lineup, represent an upgrade at the position, and make at least one highlight reel type play every week. You can’t pass up a guy like that when you’re as thin at LB as the Jets are outside of the top five or so picks. I never really understood why the Jets gave up on Jonathan Vilma so quickly, especially when he was so dynamic right off the bat for them, but Jones is a cut above in pretty much every sense, and provided his spine does not in fact crumble into dust, I can see a James Harrison-type pass rush stat line from him every year, along with better-than-Harrison level coverage and run defense. If that’s the case, Jones will ultimately start showing up at number two overall in all the inevitable "2013 Re-Draft" blog articles a few years from now.

Round 1, Pick 10
Titans select Chance Warmack, G, Alabama

Shaner: I don’t foresee any scenario whereby Warmack gets past the Titans at ten. He’s a top five overall talent, and he’s the best Guard prospect in the draft. I think the Titans will try to replace a potential HOF-candidate in the retiring Steve Hutchinson by drafting a player who profiles in the same mold—a true road-grading Guard who has the potential to stand up to any defensive lineman in the league. With weeks left before the draft, word is out that Warmack actually wants to play for the Titans. He told a reporter he’s never been coached by guys who played on the offensive line before, and he apparently salivates at the opportunity to play for a couple of the greats in Mike Munchak and Bruce Mathews. He’s on record emphasizing that his play will escalate "to a phenomenal level" if he gets to learn the technical art of blocking in the NFL from those who know it best. Even as someone who has no rooting interest in the Titans, I’m excited at what he could do in Tennessee under Munchak’s tutelage. It seems like a match made in Heaven. Pairing Warmack with FA-signee Andy Levitre anchors both G positions for the Titans and would put Jake Locker in as good a sink-or-swim situation as he could hope for entering a pivotal third year of his shaky NFL career. The Titans have undergone some roster churn with the retirement of Hutchinson, the evacuation of Matt Hasselbeck to Indy to be Andrew Luck’s backup, the signing of Levitre and Shonn Greene, and the departure of freak athlete and TE Jared Cook to the Rams, but the addition of Warmack may be enough to tilt the scales in favor of a positive influx of talent to the roster overall. If nothing else, the offensive line should be one whole Hell of a lot better than it was last season.

Pace: If I were the general manager for the Tennessee Titans, my objective would be pretty simple. My biggest asset is Chris Johnson. I have him locked up for the next few years on a very lucrative contract. In order to best utilize my asset, which is the fastest, most explosive runningback in the league, I need to make sure he doesn’t get blown up behind the line Jadeveon Clowney style every time he gets the handoff. I have great tackles in Michael Roos and David Stewart, I just signed the best free agent offensive lineman Andy Levitre at left guard, and have a returning young center that I may or may not replace. With the tenth pick of the draft I have the best guard prospect of the last decade sitting in the audience with nine chips on his shoulder. Being asked to make this pick is like asking Albert Pujols to hit a home run off a t-ball stand. If center Barrett Jones is still available for me to take with the eighth pick in the second round, I’m gonna go on a sniffable binge so epic that I won’t come down until CJ2K breaks Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record, which should happen sometime around mid November.

Round 1, Pick 11
Lane Johnson, LT, Oklahoma

Pace: Being a Chargers fan makes you question why you invest any sort of loyalty to any team in any sport. Has there been any professional team so good at drafting star players, and so bad at keeping them? What pisses fans off is not that the players leave, but that the team lets these players leave for nothing in return! Not a fuckin’ dime! If you think that you will lose a star player, trade them for something! Anything! Even if only a 7th round pick!

Here’s the list of star players that were let free to walk for nothing in return.
Rodney Harrison.
Drew Brees.
Michael Turner.
Vincent Jackson.
Darren Sproles.
Antonio Cromartie.

What’s troubling is that Rivers has started to mail in performances, and I can’t really blame him. Nobody can stay healthy on the line besides Vasquez. Who is Vasquez? Oh, you know, the guy that just left the team as a free agent. The only talented offensive lineman on the team left. For free. It doesn’t really matter, because Rivers doesn’t have anybody to throw to since Vincent Jackson left for Tampa. I’m not kidding when I say I’d rather have Matt Millen run this team the last few years than A.J. Smith. At least we’d have a few high profile receivers.

This is the first draft in the Post-Smith Era, so we just have to assume that our new GM actually does his homework. We have a quarterback that is pretty good when he wants to be, so investing in the best left tackle available is a no-brainer. If Lane Johnson isn’t available, the Chargers need to draft Xavier Rhodes at cornerback, because, you won’t believe this, our two starters just left in free agency. They filled one spot by signing Derek Cox from Jacksonville during free agency, so hopefully they have their eyes on a cornerback not name Desmond Trufant. I’ve watched every game Trufant has played at UW, and I can honestly tell you, not once did I watch a game thinking this guy was a first-rounder. My thoughts were more along the lines of, "I’m sure he could make a team as a special-teamer."

Don’t get me wrong, I would like Trufant to succeed. I really would. I just don’t want my team taking the risk on him, then watching him take shitty angles on interceptions and watch the other team’s receiver take it to the house.

Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher will be long gone by this point, so Lane Johnson is the pick.

Shaner: I hate to break it to you, but I don’t have a high degree of confidence that Johnson’s still on the board at 11. I guess we’ll see, but I think he’s close enough in talent to Joeckel and Fisher that I fully understand how some team could surprise us and snag him in the top ten. That’s right, I’m already busting our mock draft and saying we got it wrong, not even halfway through the first round. Hopefully for you that means Rhodes is at least still on the board, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him go in the top ten, either, frankly. I think San Diego could do even better here though by trading down. The Chargers have enough holes on the defensive side of the ball that trading down to gather additional picks would probably be a good idea. Copying what Carroll and Schneider have liked to do in Seattle, for instance trading a high second round pick for a late second and late third, is a strategy worth emulating for any team with more holes to fill than draft picks. I agree about Trufant, and I think there’s a pretty good shot he turns out to be a clone of Josh Wilson…good cover guy, smart football player, but ultimately not big, strong, fast, or physical enough to hang with most of the #1/#2 WRs in the NFL. I’d be really disappointed if my favorite team used a first round pick on him.

With that said, if I were the Bolts, I’d be happy trading this pick to move back to the late first round and also get another pick, maybe in the middle of the second round. If I could pull that off, I’d take DJ Fluker if he’s still there with the late first round pick, or take Johnathan Banks if Fluker’s not there, and Menelik Watson with the mid second round pick to go with Banks. Alternatively, I’d take Banks in the mid second round if Fluker was available in the late first, or maybe Datone Jones or Johnathan Hankins if Banks is already gone by then. There’s not a corner I like in the middle rounds…once Banks is gone, I’d be waiting for the late rounds looking for a Richard Sherman-type prospect.

Round 1, Pick 12
Dolphins select Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State

Shaner: There might not be a hotter commodity in the NFL right now than the big, physical man-press type cover corner. The Dolphins let Pro Bowler Sean Smith, himself the kind of lock-down cornerback that every team seems to covet, to the Chiefs on a healthy three-year deal, seemingly drawing a financial line in the sand in terms of the value of the position in their defense. With that attitude, the only prudent course of action for the Dolphins is to attempt to replace Smith straight-up through the draft, replacing what would have been an expensive contract extension for Smith into a stud rookie with an accompanying team-friendly rookie contract. At pick 12 Rhodes will get a nice payday, but he’s not the first cornerback off the board, and this CBA isn’t nearly as good to rookies as the previous ones were. If Rhodes plays to his potential, the Dolphins will look smart for the next three years, at least until they let Rhodes walk to another team after his deal expires and they roll the dice trying to restock the position through the draft again. The Dolphins have other holes to fill, but Rhodes should fill in ably for Smith without much dropoff, and that’s too much to pass up at this point in the first round.

Pace: Quick! Name a Dolphins cornerback! If head coach Joe Philbin is trying to recreate a Green Bay passing attack, he’s gotta understand that will force the other team to pass more to catch up, right? Ryan Tannehill isn’t exactly Drew Brees, he’s not gonna win shoot-outs every week. I really don’t see anybody else that the Dolphins can take here. If Rhodes and Milliner are taken, they would be reaching for any other corner. If the top three left tackles are taken, they would be reaching for any other left tackle. For all the money Miami was throwing around this off-season, you would have thought they might have kept a couple of their players at pivotal positions, instead of painting themselves in a corner, needing to nail more than a couple draft picks.

Round 1, Pick 13

New York Jets select Sharif Floyd, DT, Florida

Pace: Sharif Floyd is a beast. Athletic enough to play either end or tackle, and the nasty temperament of recently castrated bear. I initially had Floyd going to Tampa Bay here, but I still think he’s too good for the Jets to pass up here. The Jets have drafted Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples the last couple years, and teaming them with Floyd, could be the best, young defensive line in the league. The Jets still have a great cornerback in Antonio Cromartie, who more than held his own while Revis sat out the season last year, so drafting a cornerback to replace Revis with this pick would be a mistake. With Milliner and Rhodes off the board at this point, no other cornerback should be taken this high, but if the Jets made that mistake, that unlucky cornerback would forever be compared to Revis, with unfair expectations and the weight of the New York media, the player would certainly fail.

Floyd has been going as high as the third pick to the Raiders, and if I wasn’t so high on Star Lotulelei, I would have taken him third overall. Floyd has played both defensive end and defensive tackle, with potential coming out his ears. Scouts are falling for Floyd like hollywood has fallen for Jennifer Lawrence, and I’d bet the farm that he becomes the less crazy Ndamukong Suh. With the New York media setting the table for ESPN, I hope football fans are ready for the Shariff Floyd love-fest that will dominate the Jets story lines. Well, until Tim Tebow gets converted to defensive tackle and the fans start hollerin’ for Tebow to get in the game.

Shaner: This is pretty much what I expect Idzik to do with his first pick as GM of the bottom-feeding Jets. From Schneider's comments to the New York media who have been asking him about Idzik, I expect the Jets to get away from splashy signings and using high draft picks on skill players at positions that are deep in the draft, and move to a more Seahawks-like approach, almost always using high picks on linemen and trading down where possible to accumulate more mid to later round picks. The blueprint is there and it's proven effective...if they can hit on their picks, the Jets could be formidable in the not too distant future. Of course, they'll always be a QB away from being competitive as long as Sanchez is under center.

Round 1, Pick 14
Panthers select Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri

Shaner: Some have argued that Richardson is second only to Lotulelei in this draft class’ crop of Defensive Tackles. I’m inclined to agree with that assessment. Scouts have been drooling over Richardson’s athleticism and potential as a defensive lineman since a breakout JuCo season, where he played for academic reasons after graduation before ultimately catching on with Missouri and becoming a second-team all SEC D-lineman in 2012. Scouts rave about how light Richarson is on his feet for a man of his size, and if a 4.71 40 yard dash time is any indication, this is a close-to-300 pound man who can really move his frame in space. This bodes well for his ability to drop back in limited coverage against TEs and against hot routes over the short middle, a facet of technical ability that makes him a potentially invaluable contributor on the Panthers D-line. The Panthers are pretty old at the DT position and will probably be in need of a replacement for Dwan Edwards within a year or two. If they’ve watched the same tape of Richardson’s play against top-flight SEC competition that I have, they will be excited to take him at 14.
Pace: Sheldon Richardson is one of my favorite players in the draft this year. He reminds me of Gerald McCoy coming out in 2010, when Tampa took him 3rd overall. Whether Richardson plays inside at the 1 tech, or out at the 3 tech, he just flat out dominates the bigger linemen that line up across him. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Panthers made a play on a defensive back at this spot, but it would be a mistake. Richardson has star potential, and teamed along the line with Sione Fua and Charles Johnson, the Panthers could have the makings of the best defensive line in their division.

Round 1, Pick 15

New Orleans Saints select Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU

Pace: The Saints desperately needs play-makers on both sides of the ball. Mingo could either be the next Demarcus Ware, or the next Aaron Maybin. At best he can give new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan the play-maker superstar this team has never had. At worst he can be highly drafted bust that plays in three games in three years and making top ten draft busts lists for the next decade.

The Saints would love to take a cornerback at this spot, but the possibility of taking Mingo this late in the draft is impossible to pass up. Mingo is being drafted on potential, which scouts are claiming is through the roof, despite putting up average numbers at LSU. Clay Matthews and DeMarcus Ware didn’t put up the numbers you would expect for two of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL, which is the best argument I’ve heard for taking the risk on drafting Mingo this high in the draft. The Saints had one of the worst defensive seasons ever last year, and it really comes as no surprise when you look at their roster. I will concede that the drama from losing coaches and players, specifically Jonathan Vilma, made it nearly impossible to make the playoffs, but they were nearly as terrible when their coaching staff was intact the year before.

The Saints will take the best defensive player on the board at this point in the draft. For the purpose of our mock that appears to be Mingo, but could be Kenny Vacarro, Arthur Brown, Alec Ogletree, or Demontre Moore. Drew Brees has shown he can make the playoffs with the worst defense in the league. Give him a couple play-makers on the other side of the ball, and they could be a Super Bowl sleeper.

Shaner: Mingo stays home in Louisiana, where he attended LSU as a standout D-lineman…for some reason I just like the sound of that. I’m skeptical of Young Master Barkevious…since he was in a rotation at LSU, he didn’t really ever start and finish a game, playing 4-down football, but that may not matter because I’m not sure his game is suited to that in the NFL anyway. He’s going to have to add a lot of muscle to his frame, as I feel like he’s a potentially dominant edge rusher, but not much else yet at this point. I’m sure the potential is there for his game to develop quite a bit, but he’s a little one dimensional right now. I don’t think it matters to the Saints, though, who will be significantly better in the pass rush department just adding one more guy who has the speed to get to the QB from the outside. I foresee a rookie campaign somewhere in between those of Aldon Smith and Bruce Irvin in San Francisco and Seattle, respectively, figuring about 8 sacks, 35 tackles. If he gets to those numbers, I’d have to call that a good rookie season, wouldn’t you?

Round 1, Pick 16
Rams select Johnathan Cooper, G, North Carolina

Shaner: In most years, Cooper would probably be the best Guard prospect in the draft. If not for the freak of nature Chance Warmack, that’s exactly what cooper would be. In many ways, Cooper is defensive line coach’s wet dream. His successful youth wrestling career was probably the best applied agility and strength training for a future NFL Guard imaginable, and it would’ve given him very real and applicable physical skills that translate to an edge when it comes to his play as an offensive lineman. Interviews and testimonials I’ve read suggest Cooper is among the more focused and determined young men in the draft, with all the intangibles a front office looks for in a draft prospect at any position. That bodes well not only for his draft stock, but for the value the team who drafts him will get out of his play over the course of his rookie contract. It’s no secret that Sam Bradford has been a man on the run since the day the Rams’ future landed on his brittle shoulders, and I just can’t see Fisher letting him get past them at 14 without a fight. Given that his relationship with Bud Adams in Tennessee was such dramatic fodder at times, I think Fisher took the Rams job only after being assured he’d have the level of control over personnel decisions that he needs to avoid a similar situation in St. Louis. The Rams are quietly on the heels of both the 49ers and Seahawks, and if nothing else, Jeff Fisher knows his chances of upsetting the NFC West apple cart start with top 10 overall line play on both sides of the ball. In this division, anything less won’t be competitive.

Pace: I know people are going to give me shit over this statement, but I don’t care: as a Seahawks fan, I’m more concerned with the Rams than the 49ers. Last year the Rams had the best record in the best division in the NFL. They did so by dominating both sides of the line of scrimmage. This off-season they signed one of the toughest left tackles in the league in Jake Long, and if they get anything close to what he was his first four years in the league, they just signed a hall of famer. Pairing Jonathon Cooper with Jake Long just pisses me off. All I can hope for is that they don’t draft Tavon Austin later in the first. I can’t even think straight right now… I can’t believe the Rams are getting Cooper.

Round 1, Pick 17

Pittsburgh Steelers select DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson

Pace: This pains me to write this: DeAndre Hopkins is going to be a Pittsburgh Steeler. He is my favorite player in the draft, and, to say it lightly, the Steelers are my least favorite team in professional sports. Mike Wallace is a talented receiver, but his skill set wasn’t maximized under offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s west coast system last year, so I wasn’t surprised to see his numbers drop considerably, despite being in a contract year. The Steelers will need to find a replacement for Wallace, as it’s clear that Antonio Brown, while being paid as a number one receiver, is not one. Emmanuel Sanders is a decent slot receiver, and it appears that he will be returning to the team after the much publicized lobbying from his quarterback, but there isn’t another serviceable receiver on the roster.

This is a very good receiver class. Hopkins, Austin, and Allen should all be good, Patterson will be terrible or great, and Pittsburgh gets the pick of the litter. Hopkins reminds me of a faster Hines Ward. He’s willing to go strong across the middle, once he has the ball he is difficult to bring down, willing to block, and just always seems to be the guy that makes the play that’s needed.

The Steelers could go with a linebacker to replace James Harrison, but it would be a mistake. Hopkins should make the Pro Bowl if Roethlisberger can stay healthy, and there aren’t any outside linebackers that grade out this high at this point in the draft. Pittsburgh will address the linebacker need later in the draft, as well as depth along the offensive line, and probably a backup quarterback.

I hope Hopkins slips past the Steelers, but he won’t.

Shaner: Hopkins might be a perfect fit for the Steelers entering year two under Todd Haley’s offensive scheme. Wallace was badly neutered by the focus on short passes and the run game in Haley’s playbook, and it ended up being the rare situation where it was probably best for both the star WR and the storied franchise to part ways at this point. Wallace heads off to Miami where he joins an offense that should continue asking him to do what he does best, which is burn turf and leave opposing CBs in his dust on long TD pass plays. Wallace is too small and too fast to be running a lot of short and intermediate routes that are prone to lining him up to get hit hard, that mitigate the competitive advantage effect of his speed, and that force him to make expert use of his body and hands in traffic to both get to and catch the ball, which plays to his weaknesses (size, hands) rather than his strengths (speed, separation)…Hopkins, on the other hand, seems perfectly suited to this yeomen duty, and he should flourish in Pittsburgh if and when he can earn the trust of his coaches and teammates. I think it was foolish to bring Haley in to begin with, as their previous offense and personnel seemed to work just fine when Roethlisberger was healthy, but since that change is made and there’s really no going back until it fails completely, at least they are beginning to better suit their personnel to the type of offensive attack they now insist on using. Now, Mendenhall is also gone to Arizona, leaving some youngsters in Baron Batch and Chris Rainey as the only true tailbacks on the team, along with H-back Jonathan Dwyer, who was sadly their most effective rusher last season. Bottom line, I don’t think the Steelers are going to sniff another Super Bowl under the current regime, at least until they can find a RB talented enough to be a true feature back and take some of the pressure off of Roethlisberger.

Round 1, Pick 18
Cowboys select Kenny Vaccaro, SS, Texas

Shaner: The Cowboys spent last year’s first round selection on Morris Claiborne, the 2011 Thorpe Award winner out of LSU, in an effort to shore up a defensive backfield that had become a genuine and oft-exploited weakness. With a middling first round pick this year, the Cowboys will continue that effort by taking Vaccaro, an aggressive, physical defensive back with good man coverage skills and a nice combo of size and athleticism, with the 18th pick in the first round. Vaccaro isn’t quite elite enough in any one area to be the kind of safety prospect to creep into the top 15, but he fits in nicely just outside of that range as a guy who should be able to contribute right away both as a starting Strong Safety and potentially as a good press cornerback in Nickel formation situation. I expect the Cowboys are more than a little concerned both with preventing explosive, long running plays and with preventing the long, beat-your-safeties-over-the-top type of pass plays, and while Vacarro has the potential to help meet both these needs, he’s going to need some work before he can be expected to reliably take the best routes and not bite against the run in play-action situations. If coached correctly, Vacarro should round out nicely into one of the better over Strong Safeties in the game, but I think he’s a little more of a gamble at this spot if the expectation is that he become an annual Pro Bowl selection. I’d put his ceiling in the Gerald Sensabaugh range, interesting since this pick lands him right next to Sensabaugh, who the Cowboys have moved to Free Safety. With Claiborne, Sensabaugh, and Brandon Carr, and adding Vaccaro to the mix, the Cowboys have the personnel in place for a top-five secondary. The question in my mind is whether they have the coaching or the scheme to maximize the performance of the impressive talent they’ve amassed in their defensive backfield.

Pace: There’s been word of Vaccaro going as high as 8th to the Bills, which would be Donte Whitner all over again. I don’t think that happens, but it wouldn’t surprise me either. I’m curious how the defense will shake out in Dallas this year now that Rob Ryan jumped ship. I have slightly higher expectations for Vaccaro than you do, or maybe it’s just that I’m not schooled in Sensabaugh, as I would have considered your statement an insult at first. Having played at Texas, Vaccaro will be consistently be compared to fellow Longhorn Earl Thomas, which could be detrimental to his growth as a player. However, if he plays up to that level, Dallas will have a nasty young secondary that could rival the Seahawks, and the Cowboys will have another defensive superstar to pair with Demarcus Ware.

Round 1, Pick 19

New York Giants select Tank Carradine, DE, Florida State

Pace: The Giants win or lose championships with dominant defensive lines. Well, and a dopey looking quarterback that is a stone cold killer in the 4th quarter. Last year, Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Osi Umenyiora had a combined 16.5 sacks. Two years ago, when they won the Super Bowl, they combined for 30.5. The Giants chose not to re-sign Umenyiora to a large extension last year, which wasn’t all that surprising, seeing as how they already had two ridiculously talented ends on the roster. Umenyiora signed with the Falcons this off-season, leaving a desirable roster spot for up-and-coming defensive ends.

Carradine might have been a top-5 pick if it weren’t for the ACL injury he suffered in November. His ceiling is just too high to pass up at this point in the draft, especially if he’ll initially be used as a rotation player behind Tuck and Pierre-Paul. Some might point out that teammate Bjoern Werner is still available, as well as Damontre Moore, both top ten locks in early mock drafts. Either could be selected ahead of Carradine, but I find it unlikely. Carradine was a better player than Werner, and Moore couldn’t have tested worse at the combine had he showed up after a long night of snorting bath salts. Carradine doesn’t have the insane upside that Ansah has, but as long as his knee doesn’t saddle his growth as a player, I fully expect him to be the best end to come from this draft.

Shaner: I think the Giants have proven the most effective team in the league at drafting defensive linemen in the recent past, and the championship rings would seem to back that up. I’ve marveled at it from afar, really, especially since the Seahawks whiffed so many times between Cortez Kennedy and…Bruce Irvin? For every Michael Sinclair there’s been at least one total bust like Marcus Tubbs, so to watch another front office picking from the same pool of players hit on Michael Strahan, Tuck, Umenyiora, and Pierre-Paul in the span of a few years is to observe a real achievement in talent evaluation. It makes championships, like it did for Tampa Bay when they drafted Warren Sapp and brought in Simeon Rice to play in front of Derrick Brooks, or as in Baltimore with Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata playing in front of Ray Lewis. You could argue the 49ers are a close proxy with their dual-headed Smith-based pass rushing beast in front of Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman. Carradine has had that sneaky-good vibe about him the whole time the microscope has been on the top prospect, consistently showing up in lists of players with rising draft stock and lists of pundits’ "draft sleepers." There has to be reason for that, right? There’s a lot of bloviating around the draft and most of it turns out to be laughably wrong in retrospect, but it seems like guys that draw the attention specifically from the teams that consistently tend to draft and perform better than others in the league, like the Giants or Patriots, have a higher than average rate of success at the NFL level compared to the overall pool of draft picks. The fact that the Giants, Pats, and other winning franchises are rumored to be high on Carradine tells me he’s going to outperform his positional prospect ranking come draft day.

Round 1, Pick 20
Bears select Arthur Brown, MLB, Kansas State

Shaner: Arthur Brown’s also-talented brother Bryce was a 7th-round pick of the Eagles in 2012 out of Kansas State, where they both finished their college careers after starting them in Tennessee and Miami (FL), respectively. After coming home for a family reunion at nearby K-State, Arthur blew up in 2012 in a way Bryce didn’t get to while buried on the depth chart at RB, and Arthur essentially played lights-out for most of the ’12 season, even picking off RGIII late in the Baylor game to seal the victory for his team, thus becoming the only player to intercept the soon to be Heisman winner in the second half of a game during his senior season. RGII was a pro-quality QB his senior season at Baylor, and the fact that Brown not only helped his team beat the Griffin-led Baylor team, but picked him off to seal the victory, shouldn’t be taken lightly or ignored. He is a polished defender who already possesses the skills to start at MLB in the NFL. He will step in nicely for the Bears in place of the departing face of the franchise in Brian Urlacher, and while I won’t go so far as to say there won’t be a drop-off in traditional production at the position, if he meets his potential he could be every bit as good or even better than Lance Briggs, and be more dynamic right away anchoring the middle for the Bears than the aging version of Urlacher has been for the past few seasons in midway. Bottom line: a MLB prospect with a good mix of size, strength, and speed who plays even bigger than he is and can make plays on the ball in coverage is an easy choice for a team that just parted ways with a perennial Pro Bowl stalwart in the middle in Urlacher. They’re big shoes to fill, but Brown should prevent a painful dropoff in production at the position.

Pace: Brown should be able to step in and produce at a higher level than Urlacher played in 2012, but he’s got to put on a few socks to fill the clown shoes Urlacher left from his prime. That being said, I think he can be the face of their defense for the next decade, assuming he avoids any serious injuries. Brown has the speed to play outside, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets moved to the outside in the next couple seasons if they find a true MLB in the draft in the next couple years. If the Bears stay with the Tampa 2 defense that Lovie Smith ran, then Brown fits the role of the coverage MLB that is the archstone of the system. Whether the Bears take Brown or Alec Ogletree, they will be getting a very athletic linebacker that can play inside or out in just about any defensive scheme. Bears fans should be ecstatic that they get a potential defensive superstar this late in the first round.

Round 1, Pick 21

Cincinnati Bengals select D.J. Fluker, RT, Alabama

Pace: Andre Smith must really want a lot of money. If the Bengals re-sign Smith by draft day, Fluker will not be playing in Cincinnati. The Bengals have two picks in the second round, the 5th and 21st, so they could value somebody higher at this spot and hope Fluker could still be sitting there 16 picks later, which is unlikely, as the Jags would certainly take him with the first pick in the second. The Bengals could upgrade a few spots on the roster, but replacing Smith is a massive need. Honestly, I think they should just re-sign him, he was one of the best linemen in the league last year, and replacing him with Fluker is a down-grade, but it’s not as large of a drop off from Smith to Fluker as Smith to any other right tackle in the draft.

Most mock drafts have the Bengals going safety in the first round, but I think one of the top five safeties will fall to them with the 21st pick in the second round. They should take Fluker in the first, running back Giovanni Bernard with fifth pick in the second round, and the best safety available, whether Matt Elam, Eric Reid, or DJ Swearinger, with 21st pick in second round. Of course, they could take John Cyprien in the first round, and hope to find a starting right tackle later in the draft, but it seems like there are more quality safeties available in the second round than quality right tackles.

Ideally, they sign Andre Smith and draft best safety available in the first round. Hope for the best, plan for the worst. The Bengals are taking Fluker in the first round.

Shaner: Fluker is the last of the top tier Tackle prospects available on my sheet, but the Bengals seem totally intent on resigning Andre Smith anyway, so I really doubt they take Fluker here. I don’t know enough about the Bengals defensive personnel to suggest what they should do with the pick instead, SS being probably as likely a need as anything, but Ogletree, Moore, Keenan Allen or Cordarelle Patterson would seem like better bets to make an immediate impact and make a good team that much better right away, whereas Fluker here is probably depth if they resign Smith, joining Dan Knapp and 9th year vet Andrew Whitworth as the other Tackles on the roster, likely in a rotation or on limited snaps at LT, or giving Smith a breather at RT. That kind of guy can come in the third round or later. The more I think of it though, the more it just seems like Cordarelle Patterson would make a great Bengal. He’s their kind of knucklehead, with the primary knocks against him being that he’s a lazy blocker and that he loses focus easily. But I watched him in a pre-draft agility and skills competition over the past weekend, and he looked like a beast to me. I think he could excel as a pro if he gets his shit together and focuses on improving his techniques. They do have Mohammed Sanu lining up across from stud WR AJ Green, but Patterson has a much higher ceiling and would give Andy Dalton one more excellent downfield target with all the physical characteristics needed to be able to get position against DBs and really fight for the ball.

Round 1, Pick 22
Rams select Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

Shaner: The NFC West arms race has a stealth third participant, and it’s the Rams, who, having played last year’s NFC West champion 49ers to a win and a draw in two meetings last season, are only still in stealth mode to you if you’ve been sleeping on them like most. The proof is in the pudding though…while they had their share of lapses and bad losses last year, they gave the two best teams in their division everything they could handle in each matchup they had. And they were just as tough on the road in those games as they were at home, which is one mark of a well-coached team. Well-coached might be an understatement, even. In less than a year at the helm, Jeff Fisher has turned this fallen franchise back into a menacing unit that can beat any team on any given Sunday. With the addition of Cooper to the offensive line, and now Tavon Austin to the receiving corps in the first round of this year’s draft, the Rams continue to plug holes and stack their depth chart with the kinds of players who should respond well in Fisher’s system. Still collecting dividend checks from the trade of last year’s second overall pick to the Redskins, who took budding star QB RGIII with that pick, the Rams will replace sometimes-slot wunderkind Danny Amendola, he of replacing-Wes-Welker-in-New England fame, with a miniature version featuring additional fun traits such as game-breaking speed and a natural elusiveness. Austin has that mix of speed and agility that could one day rank him near diminutive Panthers superstar receiver Steve Smith in terms of playmaking ability. Come draft day, Austin may slip past this pick and end up going to some other team, but he has enough talent and natural ability to turn heads for a long time to come. Don’t be surprised if within a couple years your friends won’t let you play with him on Madden because you have 2-3 plays design for him on that can’t be stopped by mortal means.

Pace: The Steve Smith and Madden reference is spot on. I had a buddy that never stood a chance playing me in Madden, unless he had Steve Smith. Every play, even kick returns. That being said, I will go from uneasy to terrified if the Rams get both Cooper and Austin. There’s a chance, and a damn good one, that Austin won’t be on the board here, some team will be ga-ga over his 40 time, but if he somehow slips to the Rams second pick, I don’t think they will be able to qualify as a sleeper team. I’m still hoping that if this scenario happens, the Rams don’t select Giovanni Bernard in the second round. Seahawks fans would have need to worry for the division crown at that point.

Round 1, Pick 23

Minnesota Vikings select Alec Ogletree, MLB, Georgia

Pace: The most successful middle linebacker to play in a Tampa 2 system was Brian Urlacher. Like Ogletree, Urlacher was a converted safety, using his speed and coverage skills to make the middle of the field a very dangerous place for quarterbacks to throw. Something I love about Ogletree is the way he plays the run, attacking blockers and breaking down the play with an all-out tenacity I haven’t seen since a young Shawn Merriman.

Ogletree played inside in a 3-4 system at Georgia, which is different than the 4-3 Tampa 2 that Minnesota runs, so there will be a learning curve. In theory, it should work to Ogletree’s advantage, having an extra defensive lineman to keep guards at the line of scrimmage, giving him room use his quickness to break down the play. It never is that simple of course, and the Vikings might opt for Arthur Brown, who played both inside and outside linebacker in 4-3 system at Kansas State.

Ogletree is the perfect fit for Minnesota’s Tampa 2 defense, and if he somehow drops to the 23rd pick, the Vikings war room can pop the champagne, cause even if they miss on all their other picks, this team just got a hell of a lot better.

Shaner: Well, no surprise here, I think Ogletree is probably the best player left on the board from an NFL-ready game perspective. He looked like a man among boys most of the time last season, and that’s in the SEC where he’s playing against a lot of future NFL players anyway. I hope the Vikings do get to snag Ogletree here to hopefully anchor the middle for years to come. It’s really about damn time the Vikings have a MLB that can tackle better than Antoine Winfield. Here’s a fun game to play…well, unless you’re a Vikings fan. You and a friend go back and forth naming stud Vikings linebackers until one of you either passes out or can’t think of another name. What’s that you say? You can’t think of a stud Vikings linebacker? Well, sir, Scott Studwell just called, he has a knuckle sandwich for you, and it’s coming straight from 1989! Seriously though, they are going to need someone to do the tackling now that Winfield has flown the coop. It’s not even funny. If they don’t get Ogletree or someone similar from this draft, they will probably lead the league in arm tackles. Well, them or the Cowboys.

Round 1, Pick 24

Colts select Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M

Shaner: Damontre Moore is a bit of a mystery leading up to the draft, but there’s enough upside in his game to make him a tempting selection in the latter half of the first round. The way he destroyed every Tackle he faced in the first half of the 2012 season puts him in the conversation of the best Ends in the draft class, but questions about his motivation and the way his numbers dropped in the second half of the season probably keep him off a fair number of teams’ draft lists. That said, I think the positive, engaging Colts locker room gives him his best shot to maximize on his tantalizing potential, and the decision to let aging superstar Dwight Freeney walk via Free Agency this year might become a side-note earlier than anyone expected. He has plenty of experience both at the 4-3 end position and in a 3-4 OLB pass rushing capacity having played for two different coaches at A&M, so he’s schematically versatile and might get multiple opportunities to produce in the league regardless of how his tenure in Indy goes. His high motor and above average handwork is going to make him a terror at least against the weaker Tackles he faces, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see his name in DROY conversations at the end of the season. The guy his teammates nicknamed "DaMonster" may look like a steal at this pick a few years from now, but it bears noting that the primary media draft gurus have labeled him the biggest risk at DE in the draft. If he were to bust I wouldn’t be shocked, but no doubt the talent is there in raw form.

Pace: Prior to the Combine, Moore was seen as high as the second pick to the Jags in mock drafts. After the Combine, well, let’s just say nobody hurt his draft stock worse than Damontre Moore. An undersized defensive end that reps 225 12 times and barely breaks a 5 second 40 yard dash sounds like a practice squad player, not a first round selection. Moore is the perfect example of the debate over game tape vs. combine numbers. What I’ve read about Moore, prior to the combine, is that he doesn’t do anything great, but just always seems to be involved in the play because he doesn’t give up. For what it’s worth, Moore was given the task of replacing college legend Von Miller at Texas A&M, and did a damn good job of it. Whether or not Moore has the speed to play standing up in a 3-4, or the acceleration to play with his hand in the dirt in a 4-3, he’s going to have the added motivation from so many teams passing him up in the first round. I think you’re right though, of any player this half of the first round that has a chance to be Defensive Rookie of the Year, Moore has the best chance. The Colts might be getting a superstar all but gift wrapped.

Round 1, Pick 25

Minnesota Vikings select Keenan Allen, WR, California

Pace: Prior to the combine, Allen was widely considered as the first wide receiver to go in the draft. After the combine, however, Allen’s name has been missing from most first round mocks. Bringing in Greg Jennings will help alleviate the loss of Percy Harvin, but his presence alone won’t solve the passing woes that have haunted the Vikings ever since they traded Randy Moss back in 2005 (the Brett Favre season the only exception). Drafting Allen will give Christian Ponder another weapon to play opposite Jennings, and one that can step up as the number one receiver when Jennings predictably gets injured (Jennings has missed 11 regular season games in the last two years).

Allen and Cordarrelle Patterson are the top two receivers left at this point in our mock draft, and despite the similarities in size, these players are very different. Allen has the higher floor of the two, but Patterson might have the highest ceiling of any player in the draft. I just can’t imagine head coach Leslie Frazier signing up for years of headaches from Patterson after finally ridding himself of the years of migraines from Harvin. If Tavon Austin or DeAndre Hopkins are still on the board, the Vikings will take either player over Allen, but regardless of the player, a wide receiver will be taken with one of their two first round picks.

Shaner: Vikings fans can finally step back from the ledge…just a bit. Let’s not get crazy and pretend they’re not still in the vicinity of the cliff’s edge. Half their best players left for Seattle via trade or FA over the last few seasons, and now they are in serious jeopardy of wasting the prime of the best RB of his generation in Adrian Peterson. The outrage would be deafening if the Vikings didn’t take a WR with either of their first two picks. After watching their FO trade away Percy Harvin this offseason, suddenly the mantle of #1 receiver on the Vikings depth chart seems to have landed on TE Kyle Rudolph. Not that Rudolph is bad or anything, in fact he’s starting to be a very good pass catcher, but you’ve got major problems when your TE is your best receiving threat because your wideout depth chart is so shallow. Much like their history at LB, outside of Cris Carter and a tantalizing few years of young Randy Moss, what Vikings WRs can you even name from the past 10-20 years? Not many, I’m guessing. If they are committed to Christian Ponder as their franchise QB, then it’s time to give him some weapons and some semblance of a chance to do something other than fail miserably. There has to be an attempt to replace Harvin’s production through the draft, at least in part. I don’t know how you do that if you don’t use one of your first two picks on one of the top receiver prospects in the draft. Another year of Jerome Simpson is not going to cut it. For the record, even though Ponder has shown a maddening handful of flashes of brilliance in his two years in Minny, I don’t think his ceiling is high enough to warrant a long term commitment, and apparently Percy Harvin didn’t either. Even if they plan to stick with Ponder long term, adding talent at the skill positions will both put him in the best position to succeed, and give them some attractive capital if they have to try to replace Ponder through FA at some point before they plan on needing to.

Round 1, Pick 26

Packers select Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State

Shaner: Ohio State’s beast in the middle, Johnathan Hankins, has been compared to the Patriots’ stud Vince Wilfork, which tells you something about this draft’s DT class when Hankins is generally regarded in positional rankings as the third or fourth best DT in the draft. Between him, Richardson, Floyd and Lotuleilei, we might be looking at four Pro Bowlers within the next few seasons. Hankins was an absolute monster in the Michigan game last year, producing a number of highlight reel-type plays. He tossed one of the better Tackle prospects in the nation aside and stuffed the RB at the goal line and then stuffed Denard Robinson and forced a fumble on another play. He looked like the best player on the field at times in that game, and that is significant given the combined recruiting clout of the two teams on the field. Hankins could also play at the DE position, so he has some of the schematic versatility especially beloved by teams running a lot of hybrid defensive formations and/or doing a lot of rotating of D-linemen in the game. The Packers may not be one of those teams, but the embarrassment of their blowout playoff loss at San Francisco last year will likely have them trying to address their problems with containing the pocket. A high-motor guy like Hankins who can be used to throw different looks at the opposing offense is a good value at pick 25 for a team whose season ended getting torched by a mobile QB to the tune of record numbers. Alternatively, he could also be used exclusively at the DT position to help collapse the pocket and prevent big rushing gains on draw plays, getting to the QB before a big gap can open in the middle for a mobile QB or RB to exploit. Hankins is probably the best run defending DT in this draft, and he couldn’t be more welcome in GB at this point, I’m sure.

Pace: Hankins is getting compared to Wilfork, but he reminds me of Albert Haynesworth when he played for Tennessee. Hankins would be better served playing in a 4-3 system, which he played in during his time at Ohio State, but he’s so big and nasty that he could be a real difference maker if he can adapt to Green Bay’s 3-4 system. What could be effective, in theory, is playing a 2-3-6, featuring Hankins and B.J. Raji as the two lone defensive lineman, a system that is designed to stop spread offenses by playing more defensive backs. Hankins and Raji are two monster defensive tackles, and if Green Bay can play both of them at the same time, it will be nearly impossible for any team to run up the middle against them.

Round 1, Pick 27

Houston Texans select Manti Te’o, MLB, Notre Dame

Pace: This defense is awesome. J.J. Watt is unstoppable, it looks like the team put a bull in a Texans uniform, lined him up over the three gap, and kicked him in the balls at the snap of the ball. The player that I don’t think gets his due credit is Brian Cushing, the beast of a middle linebacker that runs the show. When Brian Cushing was lost for the season in the fifth game, the Texans were undefeated. In week six, their first game without Cushing, they got blown out by a 2-3 Packers team. Had the Texans been playing Te’o, or a player of his caliber, they probably would have held on to the first week bye, along with home field advantage through the playoffs, beat the Patriots, won the Super Bowl, and made an awesome "Bulls on Parade" music video with Rage Against the Machine. Probably.

The Texans could start the season with a linebacker core of Brooks Reed, Brian Cushing, Manti Te’o, and Whitney Mercilus, which on paper could challenge the 49ers for the best in the league. Probably more like challenge the rest of the league for the first runner-up to the 49ers, but come on, that’s still pretty good. They would get the blue ribbon for the AFC, anyways.

If the Texans don’t take Te’o, they will take Cordarrelle Patterson, wide receiver from Tennessee. There will be starting receivers left to pick at the end of the second round, the depth at receiver in this draft is deep. There won’t be a middle linebacker as talented as Te’o later in the draft, and if it weren’t for all the off the field crap, he wouldn’t be here to take in the first place. Whether Te’o or Patterson, Texan’s fans should be excited that their playoff team just added another play-maker on either side of the ball.

Shaner: I’m not a Te’o fan, I’ll confess. I’m not partial to Notre Dame at all, so the fawning by NBC and the national media over any good player they have starts to grate on me after a couple years. Plus with Te’o it’s even worse because he got catfished by a gay, or at least confused, Tuiasosopo cousin and we all had to hear about the whole bizarre scenario ad nauseum for weeks afterward, even though it was far more strange than interesting. It seems to have genuinely affected his draft stock though, and he’s no longer in the conversation as a potential top 15 pick, like he was going into the national championship game against Alabama earlier this year. That game probably affected his draft stock just as much though…he looked straight-up average against ‘bama, and I have to say I think he’ll be overmatched by a lot of the athletes he faces at the pro level. I’d actually be upset if my team took him with a first round pick…I think he’s a late second at best, but maybe I’m wrong about that. Houston would be an optimal landing spot for him, though, because of the boatload of talent they have in their LB corps, as you noted, and the notion that he wouldn’t be thrust into a high pressure situation right away and could be groomed into the best possible situation in which to succeed. When his athleticism, or lack thereof, was arguably exposed between the ‘Bama game and the combine with his slow 40 time, I pretty much wrote him off as being a real impact player at the next level. I just don’t think he can hang with most of the bigger blockers and backs that will be coming his way. Think he can tackle Marshawn Lynch of Peterson in open field by himself? I don’t. I know not many guys can do that, but a linebacker taken in the first round should be able to tackle anyone in open space.

Round 1, Pick 28
Broncos select Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State

Shaner: Bjoern Werner is a top 10-15 overall prospect in every one of the mock drafts I’ve read this year, and that number might have four digits at this point. I’ll be the odd man out here and say I’m not totally sold on his potential as a pro. I think he’s a little bit on the small side to be a true prototype pass rusher in the NFL, and could disappear entirely in games against superior blocking lines. The 2012 ACC DPOY award and the performance that won it for him cannot be discounted though, and I still think Werner is a good value late in the first round, especially for a trendy SB pick that just lost the captain of the defensive line unit. Werner needs some technical coaching as well,; watching his tape you can see him pop straight up out of his stance at the snap sometimes, and if he does that in the NFL any Tackle worth his salt will knock him right back onto his ass, pancake-style. This is also emblematic of the overall issue with his potential as a DE in the NFL in that he isn’t so much elite in any one aspect of his game, but is instead at least solid in all areas and doesn’t take plays off. He was able to dominate against college competition, but the greater question is whether that superiority of performance will show up at the next level. The knocks I’ve read are mainly focused around his lack of elite length and average-or-so burst off the line in rushing situations, a combo of traits many believe will translate into a guy who’s easily blocked by any competent starting Tackle in the NFL. The Broncos’ defense will definitely suffer going from a dominant-when-healthy Elvis Dumervil to an adequate but unspectacular rookie in Bjoern Werner, but that’s less a knock on Werner than it is a knock on the Broncos and Elvis Dumervil’s now-fired agent. I think Werner should be good enough to keep a job in Denver and at least play a majority of snaps by the end of his second season.

Pace: Werner and Demontre Moore are two players that dominated in college, but may not do a whole hell of a lot in the pros. Werner was a great college player, but was fortunate to play on a team that had talent at every position on the field, and up until Tank Carradine’s injury, Werner wasn’t even the best player on the defensive line. However, if Werner goes to a loaded team like the Broncos, he would be lucky enough to be one of the after thoughts for opposing offensive coordinators, potentially getting enough one-on-one matchups that could let him get to six sacks his rookie year. Overall, I’m not sold on Werner, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he busted out multiple ten sack seasons, becoming Jared Allen 2.0. Much like the Colts reaping the benefits of teams passing on Moore, the Broncos will be considering this a win on draft day if Werner slips to the end of the round for them.

Round 1, Pick 29

New England Patriots select Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee

Pace: Patterson is the next Dez Bryant. He will have some amazing plays early on in his career, and disappear for whole games at a time. He will say some dumb shit, and we’ll all suffer the media beating his statements to a bloody, horsey pulp.

Well, unless he goes to New England. Patterson is not the type of player that New England drafts, so I know that Pats fans out there are vehemently denying this possibility while having a flicker of hope that the front office might, just maybe, draft an exciting play-maker on offense. Right now Tom Brady is nearing the end of his prime throwing to two dominant, yet injury-prone, tight ends, a younger injury-prone version of Welker, and… I think a guy that played for Buffalo? I really couldn’t tell ya who else is playing receiver without checking the roster.

The last time Tom Brady had a super athletic receiver with off-field problems, he threw for 50 touchdowns and nearly ran the table for a perfect season. Patterson on the outside, Amendola running amok with bubble screens, Hernandez and Gronkowski owning the seams, and Josh McDaniels calling the plays, Tom Brady will have a career year. This is the best case scenario for both parties: Patterson needs to go to a team with a strong culture and veterans to keep him in line, and the Patriots need young play-makers to go with this veteran laden team. I’m not a fan of the Patriots, but I really hope Patterson gets drafted here, if only because I have Tom Brady as a possible keeper in my 14 team fantasy league. Fuck. Yeah.

Shaner: I don’t loathe the Patriots like the fans of the teams they routinely beat up on year-in and year-out do, but I still really don’t want to see them land a WR of Patterson’s caliber at the back end of the first round. I think Patterson represents an immediate upgrade over the mostly-failed and now complete Brandon Lloyd experiment, and with the swap out of Welker for Danny Amendola this offseason, combined with Amendola’s penchant for getting injured and the fairly iffy health status of Rob Gronkowski, the Pats are an injury or re-injury away from being extremely thin in pass catching options. I don’t think they have the talent advantage that they used to in the AFC to get away with running Julian Edelman out there as their WR1 for most of a season and still compete for a Super Bowl. They really need to add an impact WR in this draft, Patterson is too much to pass up at this point. The structure of the Pats locker room is probably the best spot for a guy like Patterson as well, since Tom Terrifc demands focus and commitment from his teammates, and won’t tolerate Patterson taking plays off so he doesn’t have to block. If Patterson responds well in this situation, he can be a top 15 WR within a couple of seasons, and may not even be at his ceiling yet. He really reminds me of Demaryius Thomas, and I mean that as a legit compliment. I don’t need to see the Patriots adding a weapon like that to Brady’s arsenal.

Round 1, Pick 30
Falcons select Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama

Shaner: The big Australian only picked up American football at the age of 15 growing up in Brisbane, down under. University of Hawaii coaches recognized his potential during a trip there and got him to commit to their program at age 16, but by the time Williams finally made his way to the US, he took the JuCo route to incredible results and signed with Alabama out of a number of high profile suitors before the next season. Once he hit the Bible Belt, Williams of course landed on everyone’s radar for good, and he hasn’t shied from the opportunity. His ceiling is lower than the other handful of DTs taken before him, but not by that much. His teammates praise him for his innate toughness, and at 6’3", 228 pounds and with a rugby background, he’s even made it onto the field with the offense in goal line situations before. We know there are teams in the NFL that value this unique type of diverse background, sort of like the basketball player to NFL Tight End phenomena, so I’d be really surprised to see Williams, even as ostensibly the fifth best DT in the draft, slip totally out of the first round. A potential long term starter at DT is an extremely valuable commodity in the NFL, and the Falcons most definitely have a need to injext some youth into their defensive line. Williams could be one of the few minor pieces missing in the Falcons puzzle keeping them from winning their first Super Bowl with Head Coach Mike Smith and QB Matt Ryan. What I’ve been able to find out about Williams’ character in scouting him has been pretty much exclusively positive, and I think he is the type of player the Falcons like in more ways than one. Some have said he is weak in the lower half of his body, but a good NFL strength and conditioning program can help take care of that issue. The lack of top-end agility and speed may keep him from ever becoming a reliable collapser of pockets, but there’s more to the position than just bull-rushing the QB, and Williams should be expected to display a high level of consistent, solid play at the DT position. His athleticism alone should keep him from being a bust.

Pace: I have to say, I was a little disappointed that Williams only benched 225 pounds 30 times at the Combine. After bragging for weeks before the Combine about how he was going to break the record, which is held by Stephen Paea, who benched 225pounds 49 times. Williams wasn’t even close! What the hell was he thinking, that it was a contest on who could bench the most weight one time? I know that’s a minor red flag, if one at all, but it’s what I will remember Williams for until he doesn’t something worthwhile in the league. The Falcons, who have been built in a win-now mode since the trade for Julio Jones a couple years ago, have cut expensive contracts at defensive end and cornerback, only to sign other aging stars at the same positions. Williams is the monster presence they have needed in the middle for years now, and if he only plays to 60% of his potential, as he did in the combine, then he will likely be viewed as a bust. I think he will be a good but not quite Pro Bowl quality player, who could excel if given enough talent around him. He is one of the few high potential players left in the draft at this point, and the Falcons won’t be able to pass up the chance at taking a dominant defensive tackle.

Round 1, Pick 31

San Francisco 49ers select Jonathon Cyprien, Safety, Florida International

Pace: Dashon Goldson signed with Tampa this off-season, leaving a pretty large hole at the back of the defense. Cyprien could play both safety spots for the Niners, but former first round pick Donte Whitner, the other starting safety, isn’t as versatile. Whitner is a great run defender, really more of a human missile than a tackler, but can be a liability in coverage. Cyprien is always around the ball, better in coverage than his intercepting stats would lead you to believe, and finished his college career as Florida International’s leading tackler in school history.

The silver lining for ‘Hawks fans is that the Niners will be forced to play Cyprien at free safety, at least for his rookie year. Cyprien doesn’t possess top end speed, something that is necessary for safeties that play so aggressively in coverage. If the Niners decide to part ways with Whitner and play Cyprien at strong safety, well, then… fuck this. I can’t talk about how great the Niners will be with Cyprien, who should be taken higher, but wont be, only because he wasn’t recruited by better college programs out of high school.

I can’t wait to watch him eat turf while trying to catch Percy Harvin’s shoelaces, or the expression Harbaugh will bestow upon the gif-lords as he tries to understand why he will never be able to beat the Pete Carroll Seahawks.

Shaner: I saw a quote from 49ers GM Trent Baalke last week that indicated the Niners very well might not take a safety with their first pick, or at least that they don’t feel in like it’s a requirement to use a high pick on a safety. Sure, I can dig that, nothing wrong with that…but it might just be misdirection. I think there’s a lot more of that than most people think that goes on, especially where contact with the media is concerned. Cyprien’s stock took off when he basically ballhawked the Senior Bowl all week long, impressing all the coaches and the scouts and really standing out from most of the rest of the DBs in attendance. It’s easy to imagine had he gone to Alabama or another more high profile school, he could be at the top of a lot of safety prospect listings. There’s not really a knock I can make on his game…from what I’ve seen and read about him, he’s physically gifted, has great instincts, and good hands for a safety as well. He’s just got a good all around game, and I imagine he’s the type of player the 49ers would be looking to add to the position. If they do take a safety, someone is getting cut from their defensive backfield, though. I’m not educated enough to guess who’s most likely to get the HarBaalke axe, but Cyprien would likely step in and be the starter on day one. I can’t imagine them starting Craig Dahl over him, anyway, but who knows. Dahl should at least be able to help Cyprien get up to the speed of the pro game with good mentors like Dahl around, who knows the NFC West inside and out. Meanwhile, I hope the Hawks snag Idaho’s Gary Walker in the 6th or 7th round, and watch him become the best safety from this draft within five or six years. Dude is a ballhawking, tackling machine. Hard to get any attention in Idaho and when you’re 5’11", but this kid can ball. I’d rather have him than Cyprien, no doubt. I think Reid and Cyprien are probably the two best of the highly touted safety prospects once Vacarro is off the board, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or the other of them land in SF by the end of the first round.

Round 1, Pick 32
Ravens select Johnathan Banks, CB, Mississippi State

Shaner: Watching Banks play cornerback for Mississippi State and trying to learn the important aspects of his game from snippets of video strewn across the internet is a challenge, and a big part of it is that most SEC video clips I was able to find involving Mississippi State in 2012 are of their players getting abused in Alabama and other teams’ highlight reel collections. And therein lies the reason that the most intriguing cornerback prospect in this or maybe even the last several years’ drafts sits and waits until the very last pick of the first round before hearing his name called…the bottom line is not enough people appreciate how talented he is. If Banks had gone to Alabama, I believe he’d be picked before Dee Milliner in this draft, who we’ve projected as the first cornerback off the board. I believe he’s not quite as polished as Milliner yet, and that he lacks some of the practiced technique and tactical ability that helps Milliner separate from the rest of the secondary prospects in this draft, but I also believe that Banks’ ceiling as a pro is ultimately higher, and if I were picking in the first round of this draft and didn’t necessarily need my pick to step in at CB1 on day one of the 2013 season and start all 16 games, I wouldn’t hesitate to take Banks over Milliner. He has the soft hands that almost all cornerbacks lack (or they’d be receivers), but he’s uniquely suited to the art of coverage, so I’m not surprised he stuck at CB despite the potential to be a solid WR as well. Word from his college coaches is that he was the best cornerback on the team from the first day of practice in his freshman year. Character concerns have been overblown and seem unfounded to me. He was raised in abject poverty and didn’t have either birth parent to rely upon through much of his life, but his grandparents gave him a solid and stable home, and now he’s a man devoted to his young son, who loves raising and caring for his horses, and chose on his own to stay at MSU for his senior year to finish his degree, despite the possibility he could’ve been a first round pick last year as well. The Ravens get a steal snagging Banks here at the end of the first round, and I fully expect him to become the formidable man-cover corner that Ravens fans saw Chris McAllister flirt with becoming, only to come up short. I think Banks may someday go down as the best cornerback in Ravens franchise history.

Pace: I’m not gonna go as far as your last statement, but I think he might be the best corner of this draft when it’s all said and done. This is a team that has a very tight knit locker room, Harbaugh making the team a giant family, a culture that players with backgrounds like Banks really take to and flourish in. Addressing the secondary should be the target with the Ravens first pick, not trying to replace Ray Lewis. However, that will still be a need later in the draft, as well as finding a replacement for Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe. This draft is deep at inside and outside linebackers, and top heavy at cornerback, so if Banks is off the board here, I think they still go after the next best corner, which might be Desmond Trufant, as crazy as that sounds to University of Washington fans that had to watch his over aggressive play lead to big plays nearly every week. Banks just seems like a Raven, so much so that I feel like it’s a foregone conclusion that he will be wearing black and purple next year.

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