In it’s simplest form, football is built from the inside out, which means that it doesn’t do a team a hell of a lot of good to have a fine new running back with tons of moves if there’s no one to block for him, nor a stud quarterback with a cannon arm if he doesn’t have time to throw the ball…
…and that’s the way that I approach mock drafts. These are not arbitrary picks – these have been researched and implemented and assigned values depending on the condition of the offensive and defensive lines and working our way outwards.
That being said the New England Patriots entered the free agency period with obvious needs:
Of course, everyone in the entire civilized world and Canada knows that they lost Wes Welker to the Denver Broncos, then cut Brandon Lloyd to avoid paying him a $3 million roster bonus, leaving the receiver position a dire need. New England had signed Danny Amendola from the Rams and Donald Jones from the Bills to replace those two, yet the need for a #1 wide receiver, either perceived or actual, still exists.
The signing of strong safety Adrian Wilson is a stroke of genius from coach Bill Belichick, who has effectively eliminated the need for a cover linebacker with the 13 year veteran who plays like a linebacker and can cover very well in the box – and also be a mentor for second year man Tavon Wilson, who may be on the verge of something proper and will be given the opportunity to compete for the starting strong safety job, though the hope is that they are interchangeable.
Aqib Talib was re-signed as were fellow corners Kyle Arrington and Marquis Cole, and the team is confident that 7th round steal Alfonzo Dennard will avoid any time in the poke for his legal issues, but if not, his early April sentencing date still gives the Patriots plenty of time to adjust their thinking in the draft.
With these things being the case, the Patriots can focus on bringing in a sure-handed, speedy wide receiver in the first round, though it may not be a name that Patriots’ fans have been hearing.
In the second round we could very well see a CB/FS Hybrid like North Carolina State’s David Amerson and in the third round we could see the team double dip at the receiver position with Stedman Bailey out of West Virginia, or bring in an athletic back up tight end to make sure that they don’t get caught without depth in the event of injury – the name Gavin Escobar comes to the forefront…
And in the end, all teams are looking for that difference maker, so that’s where we focus this mock, working from the inside out and plugging in the player with the potential for the greatest impact for the team:
17. Pittsburgh Steelers – Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
The offseason has not been kind to the Steelers, mostly because they were not kind to their bottom line in the recent past, and are now losing good players because of their cap limitations – and they need some big-time help on that once proud defense, the most glaring need is a sturdy rush linebacker, which Jones may be the best of a good crop.
Rare athlete with prototypical talent and a non-stop motor, explosive and coordinated, incredibly strong and violent hands to both shed blockers and rip ball few from quarterbacks and running backs – one of those guys that you just have to watch play to appreciate. Words really do not do him justice
18. Dallas Cowboys – Matt Elam, SS, Florida
There are lots of needs to begin with, but the Cowboys created more by dumping Gerald Sensabaugh, so with no safeties of any tangible worth on the roster, the position becomes an area of great need. There is every possibility that Dallas elects to draft an offensive lineman, which is always the safest thing to do in the 1st round, but on this mock the best ones are gone – besides, they need a center and the best one available, Barrett Jones, could be had in the 2nd round.
Has demonstrated the ability to walk up into the box and be a force near the line of scrimmage while also dropping back into coverage as a single-high safety when coaches called for it, showing versatility – drops down to cover slot receivers – brings his hips as a hitter, showing the closing speed and raw power to generate explosiveness. High-effort player who seems to love the game. Quality special teams performer.
19. New York Giants – Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
The Giants ran out of magic on their defensive line last season, and it was an ugly thing to have to witness. Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck just were not completely there. There are issues at offensive tackle and at rush linebacker as well, but Werner falling into the teens due to teams in front of them having more pressing needs would be unexpected and a godsend to the Giants’ defensive line.
Outstanding strength, is a difference maker for a team that tries to reestablish the pocket in the opponent’s backfield. Can play it whichever way you want, he can finesse you with speed and bend or bull rush you with an inside out move. Perhaps the most instinctive pass rushers in the draft.
20. Chicago Bears – Kevin Minter, ILB, Louisiana State
The Bears have always been about linebackers, and they had to know that all of the elite college offensive linemen would be gone by the time they selected, so a linebacker it is – especially since their inside core is essentially gone. A strong willed individual is needed to be the vocal leader of the defense, and Minter grades out highly on leadership ability.
He’s a instinctive inside defender, very intelligent and his leadership value is through the roof and works best in a front seven that allows him to roam inside in space. Gives up his body but isn’t the biggest hitter. His value is in chasing down the play and moving laterally along the line of scrimmage which makes him perfect for Houston’s scheme. Is efficient in pass coverage and a good blitzer as well.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – Jonathan Cyprien, SS, Florida International
The Bengals are the next big scary thing in the AFC North. A playoff team with few weaknesses and an absurd amount of cap dollars as yet unused, if they are smart they can build a team to dominate for the next decade and beyond. They need a speedy running back and some linebacker depth, but the main concern is the safety positions that are in transition – and they can lock that down with Cyprien.
Aggressive and active – goes full speed every time…is a rare tackler that delivers the big hit, but stays in control enough to also wrap up, in other words he doesn’t let anything bounce off and get by him. Very good ball skills and seems to like mixing it up in the box…good looking prospect.
22. St. Louis Rams – Eric Reid, S, Louisiana State
The Rams come into this draft just a few pieces shy of the competitive puzzle and loaded with draft picks to help the cause – including two first rounders. Withe the 16th pick we have them selecting WR Tavon Austin to more than replace Danny Amendola, and now a starting calibre safety. Their need is actually for a strong safety, but Reid is a bit of a tweener. Cyprien would have been the pick here if still available, but he’s not on this mock.
Incredible fit in the Rams’ secondary with LaRon Landry type intangibles and may be the most violent hitter in the draft. If he plays under control and within the system he could fill a huge need for St. Louis…just needs to play a bit more under control as he sometimes goes for the knockout, and has nasty intentions with every hit.
23. Minnesota Vikings – Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
The best thing Minnesota could have done for themselves was to trade Percy Harvin. Not only do they get rid of a talented headache and his cap eating contract, but they also obtain another first round draft choice from the Seahawks in the deal. They most definitely have the ammunition to move up and down the board as they please, but 23 and 25 aren’t bad spots at all. They need a defensive Tackle, a middle linebacker and perhaps a corner and another reciever, but they’ve done well enough in free agency to focus on their top needs in the draft.
The kind of player that causes a play to stop in it’s tracks, and what he can’t get to, he redirects just by presence. A big bully that truly doesn’t like his opponent. So why isn’t he the first player taken? A knee issue for one…and has a habit of making poor decisions on the field, leading to penalties and being occasionally out of position. Is durable nonetheless, but conditioning is a bit worrisome as he tends to wear down. When he’s on his game, he demands double and triple teams.
24. Indianapolis Colts – Ezekial Ansah, OLB/DE, Brigham Young
The Colts are doing it right, and will be a force to be reckoned with in the AFC South next season, perhaps a prohibitive favorite. They have addressed every need that they had – more or less – in free agency and can concentrate on bringing in the best athlete for their scheme, and the Colts management would have a huge litter of kittens if this demon fell to them at 24. If he comes as good as advertised, he could make them forget all about Freeny…
Another in the line of annual “JPP” clones, possesses rare skill, size and agility and closes to the quarterback with unrivaled quickness. His hits have been described as “Shockwaves” and his initial burst to the quarterback isn’t the fastest but may be the most violent in the draft. If there is a knock on him it’s that he relies on speed and technique alone and needs to put on some muscle.
25. Minnesota Vikings – Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame
The Vikings need a true middle linebacker, but there are just slim pickings in the draft. They could consider a corner or a receiver, but they should shy away from that notion just because the talent pool for those positions are plenty deep and a better value in the 2nd round for their needs…so going with the best inside linebacker left on the board seems likely.
Football smart and as loyal as they come, A good athlete who is instinctive and delivers a pop, is a decent open field tackler and is usually in the right place at the right time. Is an outstanding pass defender from the position, which is what he remained in college last season to accomplish. Remains to be seen if his man of integrity and team leader attributes translate to the pros, but he’s got big enough shoulders to carry the weight of filling some very heavy shoes.
26. Green Bay Packers – Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
The Packers will be well served to not panic over losing Greg Jennings to the Vikings and focus on what their real needs are. They still have Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones to throw to and while a speed guy would be nice, those three are proficient in this offense. They could use a Center and may be tempted to draft the top rated one here, but they are more desperate for an every down running back that is big enough and tough enough to handle the rough defenses in the NFC North and the even rougher weather.
Powerful back with the leg drive to push the pile and keeps his legs churning through contact, often resulting in broken tackles. Lacy reads his blocks nicely, showing enough lateral agility to avoid defenders as well as the burst to stick his foot in the ground and accelerate through gaps quickly. ..has the bulk/speed/athleticism combination to bring an added dimension to the offense. Has a variety of moves you wouldn’t expect from a powerful back, including a spin move, well timed leaps and a devastating stiff arm. Arrives at the tackler with violent intent to pick up extra yardage.
27. Houston Texans – DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
Houston has some problems. They have been dilly-dallying in the eyes of some and have been ignoring the fact that they need a legitimate threat opposite Andre Johnson and paid the price as they were exposed on offense in the playoffs with defenses focusing on Johnson and the running game. The defense lost linebacker Conner Barwin and Safety Glover Quin, and the team has stretched the cap space to make a big time signing in Ed Reed, but unless the Texans come through huge in the draft their very short reign of the AFC South may come to an end. The greater need is at receiver…
Doesn’t have great track speed, but has excellent football speed and the intangibles to be a great #2 receiver, perhaps a #1 in the right scheme. Is always aware of where he’s at on the field and has the smarts to improvise when loose in the secondary. His biggest asset is his precise route running ability and his uncanny ability to come down with the tough grab while making it look easy. A supurb compliment to Johnson, and will push him because Hopkins always wants the ball.
28. Denver Broncos – Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
The Broncos are an interesting team, meaning they don’t seem to have a direction. Their free agent signings were big names, but not necessarily the biggest of needs, which forces them into a mode where the draft means a lot more than it should. They will be potent on offense if they can keep the running game from breaking down – they were exposed on defense as the year grew on, but were good enough to beat up on a cupcake schedule and secure a top seed in the conference before meeting up with a hungry Ravens team.
Accomplished pass rusher with a variety of moves, impressive speed and closing burst in the pass rush, solid at setting the edge in the run game but could use more muscle mass to inside assignment – instinctive in pass coverage and tackles with a purpose – projects into a 3 down , multiple tool pass rusher that can drop into coverage with agility and awareness regardless of scheme.
29. New England Patriots – Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
Losing Wes Welker to free agency, cutting ties with Brandon Lloyd…sounds like the Patriots need a receiver or two, and they do, but the receiver that fits the Patriots scheme can be found in the mid-second round.
With only five picks in the draft, the Patriots have to make every one of them a value pick, and they can not miss on any of them. Which means taking the best available athlete within the scope of need in the first round, either that or trade down for perhaps an extra 2nd and a 4th round pick – which is what I think is going to happen, but for purposes of this mock, we will abstain from any funky moves.
There are indeed impact players left on the board at twenty nine, but it would behoove them to move down into the early to mid second round to both accumulate extra picks and to get the guy that fits the Patriots offensive scheme. If they do not, they will spend their 1st round pick on perhaps the same guy they would by trading down, so they will most likely be open to just about anyone who wants to move back up into the 1st round.
Excellent straight-line speed that translates well to the field, Wheaton has gained momentum since the combine and is now considered a mid-second round talent, so selecting him in the bottom of the 1st round really isn’t that big of a stretch – and the only direction to go is up, as his sound technique and honest speed are becoming attractive to more and more coordinators.
Eats up the cushion quickly, so has an effective double-move as a result. Is used to running against press coverage as he practiced daily against physical press corners in college. Has a sudden burst out of his break and gains separation quickly – a natural and talented ball catcher and a very good deep ball receiver who not only tracks the ball well over his shoulder, but will also adjust his routes to run under a ball, timing his break to run directly under and attack the ball to give the corner no opportunity for the play…a threat to take the ball to the house anytime it’s in his hands.
30. Atlanta Falcons – Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
The Falcons are actually in a bit of a spot. They released aging and injured players and replaced them in free agency with…no one. They need a new set of defensive ends (and are seeking the services of a few veterans in that department) an every down linebacker and a corner – and there’s no way that they can find it all in this draft, but at 30, there are plenty of options…Defensive end Tank Carradine is a young speedster who likes getting after the quarterback, but the potentially elite defensive tackle class dried up a few selections earlier – so it’s either reach ever so slightly for Carradine or take a projected 1st round cornerback in Johnthan Banks
length and tall frame for the position. Always seems to know where the ball is, quickly locating and aggressively goes after it. Good discipline to read routes and stay glued to receivers. Is a tremendous ballhawk and looks very fluid in coverage, very loose hips…always looking for the ball and an opportunity to take it away…will get himself in trouble with that attitude at times, but the positives far outweigh that negative.
31. San Francisco 49ers – Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
The 49ers are in the rare position of being the defending conference champions, having plenty of wiggle room in their cap and a virtual boat load of draft picks – perhaps too many to manage them all efficiently, so look for San Francisco to move around a little with trades to gain higher picks with a package of lower round picks or stocking up for next season.
There are needs for safeties, a defensive tackle and perhaps another receiver, but the biggest need to replace Delaney Walker – so why not replace him with a receiving upgrade in Tyler Eifert, who is also the best blocking tight end in the class.
Solid frame with fluid body control and ballskills. Tough in a crowd, showing strong hands to make contested catches and a physical demeanor to come down with the ball in tight spaces. Takes pride in his routes and makes a lot of catches with his feet off the ground, attacking the ball in the air. Fully a leader and is one of the rare, high effort/great talent types that can make a difference in both catching the ball and blocking in the run game.
32. Baltimore Ravens – Alec Ogletree, OLB, Georgia
Everyone looks at the Baltimore Ravens dramatic rise to the top of the NFL last season and initially saw a motivated group of diverse veterans stationed strategically around aging stalwarts and a quarterback who was about to enter free agency…
Joe Flacco was absolutely their number one priority to re-sign this offseason, but once they were through paying him they had blown their entire cap load and was forced to break out the scalpel and remove many pieces of the Super Bowl puzzle.
Now they have no cap room, very few of their core players remaining and the last pick in the 1st round of the draft…and every position that they need to fill has been picked over by every other team, with the exception of a pass rushing linebacker, so they’ll have to start with that.
Perhaps the most exciting linebacker prospect in the draft – but has some legitimate red flags as well. Makes plays all over the field, is quick around the edge and arrives at the quarterback and running back in a bad mood. He’s a former safety which speaks to his athleticism, and also tells a story of decent coverage skills. He’s not doing himself any favors, however, but getting nailed for DUI this past weekend. Add that to his suspension for violation of the school’s substance abuse policy and you wonder about his decision making abilities…
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