I need to preface this draft by saying that I fully expect at least three quarterbacks to be taken in the first round. If I had to guess right now, I would say Geno Smith, Ryan Nassib, and EJ Manuel are the likeliest candidates, with Matt Barkley pushing for the back half of the first round.
However, I don’t like to project trades, since they are all speculation. As it stands, I think if these teams stayed in their places, and this was the way the draft fell, these would be the picks for each respective squad.
1. Kansas City Chiefs – Luke Joeckel, OT Texas A&M
The Chiefs decision to let Brandon Albert explore contract options elsewhere, paired with the trade for Alex Smith, has everybody convinced that there will be an offensive lineman taken at the top of the first. Even though Fisher is moving up boards, I think they go with the safest pick and nab Joeckel. They won’t miss a beat on the offensive line if he has to fill Albert’s shoes at left tackle (perhaps even getting better), or he’ll prove to be an elite right tackle until he can take over. They’ll still being able to find a solid quarterback to develop at the top of the second.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars – Dion Jordan, OLB Oregon
The Jaguars are looking for a complete talent overall under new management, so I think they go for the best player available. Fisher is an impact tackle that will immediately make the Jaguars offense better but would do no more than play right tackle early on. That said, I think the Jaguars will go with Jordan, who would be an explosive pass rusher and immediately give the team somebody that offenses need to gameplan for.
3. Oakland Raiders – Eric Fisher, OT Central Michigan
The Raiders are brutal against the run; they’ve proven that over and over again this season. Lotuleili is an impressively large and physical player who can play in multiple fronts, but the heart condition, mixed with my belief that he’s simply more of a run stopper only, makes it too hard to mock him here. Especially since the Raiders really should just be taking the best player available. That means Fisher. Whether he starts at left tackle in year one or later on, he’ll make life easier for DMC and make the Raiders quarterback breath a little easier.
4. Philadelphia Eagles – Lane Johnson, OT Oklahoma
This is what happens when you build an offensive line around Bills cast-offs. With Bell unable to make an impact and Jason Peters suffering a pretty serious knee injury, the Eagles were a mess at tackle this year. As bad as Vick was, a lot of it had to do with the fact that he was running for his life. Johnson has seen his stock rise tremendously since the season ended. He fills a position of need, and has the talent to be a real asset.
5. Detroit Lions – Dee Milliner, CB Alabama
Milliner is a player that I’ve liked since I watched him beat up my Michigan Wolverines in the first week of the season. He’s physical, aggressive, but athletic enough to stay with receivers. The Lions are desperate for help at cornerback, and Milliner is far and away the best in the draft. The people in Detroit will love the rugged way he plays the game, and I don’t care about the leaked stories regarding injuries. The kid is tough.
6. Cleveland Browns – Ezekiel Ansah, DE/ OLB BYU
Jabaal Sheard was a solid addition two seasons ago, but he’s found some trouble getting into the backfield regularly this past season. Part of the reason for that is that teams have gotten leads on the Browns and continued to run the ball, but it’s also simply that the Browns don’t have a lot of other talent on the line. Ansah can be the solution. He’s the type of hybrid DE/OLB that Horton would need in his new 3-4 scheme. He still needs to grow into his potential, but he’s long and can immediately make offenses gameplan to stop him.
7. Arizona Cardinals – Star Lotuleili, DT Utah
The Cardinals absolutely cannot walk away from this draft without a franchise quarterback, but I think the consensus is that there are no top-10 quarterbacks in this draft. If they keep this pick, I think the Cardinals go for the top player on their board. That could be Lotuleili since he also fills the need of plugging the middle on a mediocre defense.
8. Buffalo Bills – Chance Warmack, OG Alabama
There are no truly dominant players at the top of the draft who are far and away better than everybody else, which makes mocking the Bills pick so difficult. I know the Bills will be looking for a QB or WR, but there are no quarterbacks really worth a top 10 pick. Since the draft is so weak, I think the Bills will go with the safest possible pick and look to add a quarterback in the second or by trading down, or back into, the first. Warmack is a solid pick, a sure-fire starter to fill in for Levitre and in a draft full of question marks, might be the safest possible option.
9. New York Jets – Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB LSU
Yes, the Jets offense is terrible, but it’s also taking attention away from the fact that their defense is not producing either. Wilkerson is their leading pass-rusher, as a 3-4 defensive end, with only six sacks, so the Jets would love to grab Jordan, or Ansah here. A quarterback could be an option, although Rex Ryan is still firmly behind Mark Sanchez. So, I think Mingo will be the pick. There are some concerns about his speed, but a lot of the NFL teams have loved his tape. His on field performance could make this great value for the Jets.
10. Tennessee Titans – DJ Fluker, OT/OG Alabama
There are no major, glaring weaknesses on the Titans, but they simply don’t protect the quarterback or open up enough holes in the running game. Fluker is a little bit of a ‘tweener in terms of position, but he could start immediately at guard before possibly transitioning to tackle if the Titans feel he’s more valuable there.
11. San Diego Chargers – Jonathan Cooper, OG UNC
Much like the Eagles, the Chargers have made their quarterback look terrible by refusing to protect him from defenders. Rivers’ skills are certainly declining, but he has a few good years left in the tank. The Chargers would have really hoped that Lewan and/or Matthews would have declared for the draft, or that hadn’t played himself out of their range. However, I think the Chargers have to come out of this draft with multiple impact linemen. This might be a bit high for Cooper, but the Chargers are desperate and he showed pretty incredible athleticism in the Senior Bowl and at the Combine.
12. Miami Dolphins – Xavier Rhodes, CB Florida State
Wide receiver is the Dolphins number one need, so Miami is in a tough spot because Austin and Mike Wallace are not different enough receivers to make Miami’s offense multi-faceted. They could also use a left tackle since they let Jake Long walk, but there is nobody else worth this spot. What that leaves is Miami taking the best player available. It comes down to Richardson or Rhodes right now. Richardson is a strong defensive tackle prospect whom could maker the Dolphins feel better about losing Randy Starks, but Rhodes fills a position of greater need.
13. New York Jets – Tavon Austin, WR West Virginia
The Jets have said that they are content to go with Sanchez at QB but need to take a playmaker. Since Cooper went between their two picks, the Jets will go with the dynamic Austin over another guard. If you’re gonna roll a terrible quarterback out onto the field, you better give him an option to throw to. Austin is a target for a trade up, but with no trades projected in the first, he could slip here.
14. Carolina Panthers – Sharrif Floyd, DT Florida
The Panthers run defense is terrible. Their offense is starting to get a little bit more consistent under Cam Newton, but they are never going to win until their defense can start getting offenses off the field. Kuechly was a tremendous pick, but he needs some help in front of him. Floyd is good value here and can immediately improve the run defense.
15. New Orleans Saints – Jarvis Jones, DE/OLB Georgia
Amidst the entire bounty scandal, the Saints defense lost some of its aggressiveness. Their safeties and pass rushers in particular were a real problem last season. That means this pick could come down to Vacarro and Jones. I think the Saints turn to Jones who could go inside the top 10 as well. He’s an immediate starter and can help the Saints get some pressure on the QB and keep some pressure off their secondary.
16. St. Louis Rams – Kenny Vaccaro, S Texas
I think that Sam Bradford would be an effective NFL quarterback if he was given more time and more weapons. Givens has produced this season, and it’s too early for the Rams to give up on Brian Quick, yet there’s a strong chance they take a wide receiver in round one. However, if Vaccaro falls here, the Rams would swoop. Their secondary is young and inexperienced and they need some help over the top.
17 Pittsburgh Steelers – Tyler Eifert, TE Notre Dame
Eifert is certainly a candidate to be targeted in a trade up, but he could also be a great fit for Pittsburgh. Heath Miller is serviceable, but he’s on the way out. With Mike Wallace gone, Big Ben is going to need another target that he can count on. Eifert has the hands and athleticism to be a true force over the middle.
18 Dallas Cowboys – Sheldon Richardson, DT Missouri
The Cowboys would love to get Cooper, Fluker, or Warmack at this spot. Even Vaccaro would be a great get for them, so this situation couldn’t break much worse for the ‘Boys. If it does fall this way, expect them to take the best run-stopper available to plug the middle of their defense. In this case, it’s Richardson.
19. New York Giants – Tank Carradine, DE Florida State
The Giants always like to load up on their defensive line early; that’s even when their line is strong. This year has been a real down year for the Giants defense in terms of production in both the run and pass game. Carradine is an athletic, physical pass-rusher who has already shown incredible recovery from major knee surgery. The Giants can let him recuperate and hope that he makes a full recovery and becomes the top-10 talent that people think he is.
20. Chicago Bears – Alec Ogletree, LB Georgia
The Bears are another team that has continuously failed to address their offensive line issues. With Jay Culter, Matt Forte, and Brandon Marshall, they have the skill players who put together a dynamic offense. They just need to give them time to make plays. Unfortunately, all of the offensive line players are gone by this time, so the Bears need to address an aging linebacker corps that saw Urlacher leave town.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – Jonathan Cyprien, S Florida International
The Bengals could really use some help in their linebacker corps or take a pass-rushing talent like Werner. However, I think that Cyprien will be the selection here to shore up a secondary that needs to improve in order to compete with the big boys. Cyprien may not be a household name, but he has the athleticism and instincts to make an impact at the next level.
22. St. Louis Rams – Cordarrelle Patterson, WR Tennessee
Now the Rams can address their receiving issues after helping their secondary early on. Patterson has gone from a second round pick, to a top 10 lock, back to a second rounder. His hands and knowledge of the route tree may be a question, but he’s easily the most dynamic receiver in the draft and a talent that is too special for the Rams to pass up on here.
23. Minnesota Vikings – DJ Hayden, CB Houston
The Vikings have a few holes that they need to plug in order for the team to keep up with Adrian Peterson’s pace. One of those holes is in the secondary. Winfield is gone and the rest of the talent is not necessarily starting quality. Hayden has seen his stock rise of late and has some solid tape to go with impressive measurable. He’s a bit of a risk here, but could turn into tremendous value.
24. Indianapolis Colts – Sylvester Williams, DT UNC
The Colts identity has really changed under Chuck Pagano, but he needs more talent on the defensive side of the ball to take their performance up a notch. Running a 3-4 scheme, they could take a big nose tackle prospect like John Jenkins, but I think they go with the more consistent Williams. He doesn’t have the girth that Jenkins has, but he’s still a strong competitor and a space-eater on defense.
25. Minnesota Vikings – DeAndre Hopkins, WR Clemson
Christian Ponder has had a subpar sophomore season, but I think a lot of that has to do with his lack of receiving options. Percy Harvin was constantly hurt, and he wasn’t a number one wide receiver to begin with. Having Jennings around is a big plus, but Hopkins is a strong receiver who can make plays downfield. Pairing the two up is a big help to a young quarterback.
26. Green Bay Packers – Matt Elam, S Florida
The Packers could go with a wide receiver to replace the retired Driver and departed Greg Jennings. However, I still think that they have some glaring holes on the defense. Elam is an athletic safety that plays far bigger than his overall size. He can make plays in the box and would help the Packers finally stop some people from scoring.
27. Houston Texans – Justin Hunter, WR Tennessee
For years I’ve been saying that the Texans could use another receiver to help take some pressure off of Andre Johnson. However, they haven’t appeared willing to take one in the first round. This year may be different. With a weak overall class, I expect a lot of high upside receivers to go in the first round. One of those is the 6’4” Hunter, who could mold his raw schools under the eyes of Johnson and be a solid number two option for as long as he’s still playing.
28. Denver Broncos – Bjoern Werner, DE Florida State
Peyton Manning has completely changed the Broncos offense, and the addition of Wes Welker has taken them to another level. I’m sure the Broncos would love to have Eifert fall, since Manning loves his tight ends, but Werner would be a solid consolation prize. He’s not quite the stand-up athlete than Dumervil is, but he’s a solid defensive player who doesn’t have many flaws in his game. At the end of round one, that means good value.
29. New England Patriots – Kenan Allen, WR California
The Patriots acquired Talib, but their pass defense still needs some work. However, with many of the top corners gone I expect the Patriots to try and find another receiving option for Brady. Allen isn’t quite fast enough to take the top off of a defense, but he’s a strong receiver, can make defender miss, and would become a reliable target to keep the chains moving.
30. Atlanta Falcons – Jamar Taylor, CB Boise State
The Falcons don’t get a lot of pressure off the edge and could use a player like Cornellius Carradine or a replacement to groom for the inevitable retirement of Tony Gonzalez. However, I think at this spot, the upside of Taylor trumps all. The Falcons could use him to emerge as a #2 across from Grimes, and will take the chance on his skill set.
31. San Francisco 49ers – Jesse Williams, NT Alabama
The 49ers have a strong defense, but every team that builds a strong defense always loads up early in the draft. Williams is a mammoth interior presence that will help the 49ers defense become even more imposing and hard to contain.
32. Baltimore Ravens – Manti Te’o ILB Notre Dame
This pick could also be one of a number of talented receivers if they slip, but as it stands, I think the Ravens will be too tempted by Te’o to pass on him. With Ray Lewis retiring and the defense aging, a guy like Te’o could immediately insert himself into the lineup and prevent the Ravens from having to overhaul the defensive side of the ball.
Rest of the Bills Draft
2. Ryan Nassib, QB Syracuse
I still think this pick will be a quarterback, whether they stay here or trade back into the first round. Personall, I’d target EJ Manuel because his upside trumps that of almost any other quarterback in the draft. However, the Bills and Nassib connection has been stated to death and makes some sense. He’s a smart quarterback that could easily compare to Andy Dalton at the next level. He may never be able to carry a team on his back, but he can be a game manager who has occasional big games.
3. Jon Bostic, LB Florida
On tape, Bostic is an aggressive, downhill inside linebacker. He comes up to the line with the attention of knocking ballcarriers out. That’s the type of player that Bills fans love to see. With a solid workout in Mobile and a strong 40 time, Bostic proved to people that he’s more than just a thumper for the inside. He has good sideline-to-sideline skills and would be a fit in multiple fronts of the Bills hybrid defense.
4. Chris Harper, WR Kansas State
Chris Harper gets lost in the shuffle because Klein wasn’t exactly the most accurate downfield thrower, but he’s got some serious skills on the outside. He’s a strong receiver with enough wheels to create some separation against defenses. With TJ Graham serving as the deep threat, and Stevie Johnson becoming a pest over the middle, Harper would be a great chain-mover for the outside.
5. Nick Kasa, TE Colorado
The Bills need another tight end with Chandler likely out for most of the season after his ACL injury. They could grab a guy like MacDonald early, but Kasa could also prove some value late. He has never been able to capitalize on his solid overall athleticism, but he’s got an NFL body and proved to have solid measurables in the offseason. It’s possible his lack of production was simply due to a limited supporting cast.
6. Terry Hawthorne, CB Illinois
Terry Hawthorne’s collegiate career was derailed by numerous injuries, but there is no doubt that he’s an incredibly talented corner. He’s smart and savvy and could start immediately in the slot, perhaps pushing McKelvin on the outside by the end of the year. His injuries may ultimately cut his career short, but at this point in the draft you have to take a chance on talent.