If I were to compile a list of completely worthless things that I adore anyway, mock drafts would rank somewhere near the top. For those of you who have never come across one of these things, a mock draft is a sports website’s equivalent to one of those “top 10 celebrity hook-up” lists you might stumble upon in the darkest depths of the internet. Mock drafts are completely useless, meatless articles designed to drive web traffic, turn user comment sections into vitriolic arguments between complete strangers, and make the common football fan feel like they know more than someone else. They’re the best.
A few years back, I found myself so overcome with mock draft lust that I began writing up my own. Granted, I don’t watch college football and most assuredly don’t watch any of the NFL combine, so my credentials for writing such a thing are mostly non-existent. But I enjoy the exercise. It gives me an opportunity to familiarize myself with the rookies that will be coming into the league through the various scouting reports and think pieces Google leaves at my fingertips. And that’s the thing that makes mock drafts simultaneously ridiculous and fascinating: anyone can do one and since everyone who does will be catastrophically incorrect anyway, there’s no particular need for knowledge or accountability.
The basic logic of a mock draft is this: if a team is awful, they probably need a quarterback. If they gave up a lot of points last year, plug in a defensive player who had the word “prototype” or “freak” somewhere in a published scouting report. And if all else fails, just give them the guy who got a 10 minute segment on ESPN because he ran really, really fast or completed 94% of his passes while wearing gym shorts and throwing to receivers without even the slightest facade of a defensive presence. The latter strategy is best employed when filling in your choice for the Oakland Raiders’ selection. In the end, there will be six or seven trades in the first round anyway, so the team picking eighth today will end up picking nine spots lower, throwing your entire mock down the tubes. Plus, no one will ever come back after the fact and belittle you for being incorrect. In a lot of ways, mock drafts are the irresponsible sportswriter’s greatest concoction.
So, with all that out of the way, here’s a look at my own 2013 NFL mock draft…
01. Kansas City Chiefs | OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
The Chiefs picked a really bad year to win just two games. If they’d sunk to the bottom of the NFL in 2011 like they did this past season, they’d have put themselves in position to draft either Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. Instead, they get the first pick in a draft ripe with offensive linemen and question marks and seemingly void of any so-called “franchise quarterbacks.” And so, even with Branden Albert currently manning the left tackle spot, the safe money is on the Andy Reid era beginning with the selection of an offensive tackle, be it Joeckel or Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher. Fisher’s name has been near the top of prospect lists throughout most of the draft lead-up, but he’s recently started appearing at the tip-top of other writer’s mock drafts. I don’t know why. It seems like every year a hand full of players will rise or fall for no discernible reason. Joeckel, on the other hand, has been projected to go in the first few picks since before the NFL’s regular season ended and you have to assume that people smart enough to run professional franchises aren’t going to change their minds at the last minute.
By adding Joeckel, the Chiefs can protect Alex Smith and his eventual successor for the next decade or so. It would also free them up to trade Albert, who is seeking a long-term contract extension worth more money than he’s probably worth in the long haul. In effect, they could get a significantly younger player of roughly equal value and at a lesser financial obligation, plus whatever draft picks or players they would receive as trade compensation. That’s a net gain for the rebuilding Chiefs.
02. Jacksonville Jaguars | CB Dee Milliner, Alabama
This team has such an appalling amount of weaknesses on their roster that the only thing that makes any real sense is to take whoever they believe is the best player in the pool. The difficulty is that there doesn’t seem to be any kind of consensus about who that player is. And so I refer back to the Jaguars’ first-round pick in 2010, defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, who the team took tenth overall. Admittedly, the Jaguars have been reconfigured from top to bottom since then, outfitted with a new owner, general manager, and head coach. There’s no real reason to suspect the current regime will unexpectedly reach for a player like the 2010 bunch did for Alualu, but I do have the sinking suspicion that the pick here — assuming they don’t trade down, which is a scenario best ignored for mock draft purposes — will be someone at least moderately surprising just like that ’10 pick. That someone is Milliner, who many of the mock drafts I’ve stumbled across have placed outside the top five.
Realistically, the Jaguars would be better off jumping at Oregon’s Dion Jordan or BYU’s Ezekial Ansah, players coveted for their abilities to rush the opposing quarterback. Milliner’s great, has terrific measurables, and comes from a big-time program that should at least theoretically have some impact on his transition to the pro game, but it’s 2013. Good offenses have too many weapons to be deterred by a single cornerback. But those offenses can be disrupted by guys who can blow past the offensive line and pressure the quarterback, which is precisely what Jordan and Ansah are being touted for. Still, my gut tells me to expect the unexpected with this pick (which, though I obviously didn’t go in this direction here, could very well mean Geno Smith).
03. Oakland Raiders | OLB Dion Jordon, Oregon
If Jacksonville doesn’t take Jordan, I presume Oakland will. The Raiders are another team where nailing down just one or two pressing needs is impossible. Having recently traded for quarterback Matt Flynn, they would at least appear on the surface to be out of the market for West Virginia’s Geno Smith and, if you’re going to give up even more picks to acquire a quarterback (see below), you give yourself even less options to address the other side of the ball. For all the reasons above, Jordan and the Raiders are a logical fit. I’m less confident that the Raiders and logic are a logical fit.
To illustrate that final point: assuming they don’t ship it off to a division rival in exchange for that team’s special teams coach or something, this will be the first first-round pick made by the Raiders since 2010. In 2010 they drafted Rolando McClain, a real gem of a person, eighth overall. He signed with the Ravens just yesterday. In 2009 they made Darrius Heyward-Bey the seventh overall pick. He’s now a member of the Colts. The Raiders traded their first-round pick in 2010 to acquire Richard Seymour, who is currently a free agent, from the Patriots. They squandered last year’s first-round pick (and a second-rounder this year) trading for Carson Palmer, who has since relocated to Arizona. So anyone who thinks they’ve nailed down what the Raiders are going to do with this pick is lying to themselves, and that includes those in the Raiders’ front office.
04. Philadelphia Eagles | OT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
If you were unfortunate enough to have watched even one Eagles game last year, this projection should require no explanation. This is a team that started King Dunlap 13 times a year ago primarily at left tackle. Dunlap is best known for being 6’8″, which suggests the Eagles were conducting some type of experiment to determine if sheer size could trump basic competency along the offensive line. Dunlap debunked that myth soundly, regularly being either burned by mediocre opposing pass rushers or flagged for violating the basic fundamentals of the game. The Eagles would have been better off starting a literal turnstile at the tackle position, seeing as how turnstiles are stationary objects and unlikely to jump offsides or get caught holding every other play.
05. Detroit Lions | OG Chance Warmack, Alabama
It stinks playing so poorly that you end up drafting in the top five, but fans of the Lions should think positively. Here’s the thing: if you make the playoffs but don’t win the Super Bowl or at least come dramatically close to doing so, there’s not much difference between getting ousted in the first round and finishing 4-12. The Lions were 10-6 in 2011 with basically the same team they had last year, so you can either concede that they overachieved or take comfort in knowing the foundation is strong and the odds of a bounce back season are good. So in a roundabout way, the Lions are stocked up with some high picks and poised to add to a roster just one year removed from a playoff run. It could be worse.
Of course, it could be better. If you buy into my mock to this point, then Detroit goes on the clock here with the top players at their primary positions of need already gone. They’ve needed cornerback help for years, but Milliner’s gone. They could use some stability along the offensive line, but Joeckel and Fisher are gone. They’d probably love an edge rusher, but Jordan’s gone. If the board plays out as I’ve projected, that leaves Ansah, offensive tackle Lane Johnson, and my final pick, Warmack, as the best options. In the end, I’ve settled on Warmack even though it’s an admitted stretch.
It’s rare that an interior offensive lineman is drafted this high, but getting back to the consensus opinions mentioned earlier, Warmack is one of the few guys who has steadily been viewed as a top tier commodity. Drafting him fifth overall isn’t a particularly strong testament to value, but if you feel like Warmack is a sure thing and a player like Johnson is a bit more of a gamble, then why not plug in the sure thing and move on when the need at each position is similar? Additionally, the Lions have shown a tendency to use the draft to address their lines. In three straight drafts, they’ve picked linemen of either the offensive or defensive variety in the first round (Ndamukong Suh in 2010, Nick Fairley in 2011, and Reilly Reiff last year).
06. Cleveland Browns | DE Ezekial Ansah, BYU
By signing Paul Kruger away from the Ravens, the Browns acknowledged their need for some semblance of a pass rush and began addressing the problem. But if the Browns front office has access to the same advanced statistics as me (thanks, Google), then they’re well aware that Kruger is a situational player that put up numbers almost exclusively when Terrell Suggs was in the line-up. And so logically, if your big off-season acquisition is at his best when he has help on defense, you should provide that help or else expect your investment to tank.
07. Arizona Cardinals | OT Lane Johnson, Oklahoma
To me, trading for Carson Palmer isn’t the long-term answer in Arizona, but it suggests to me that Bruce Arians and company aren’t salivating at the thought of this year’s rookie class of quarterbacks (or at least not those with first-round projections). That would cross Geno Smith off the list of options here. Palmer might be a turnover factory, but if you find yourself in a position where you have to settle on a stopgap for a year or two, you could do far worse.
In Johnson, the Cardinals would be addressing their most glaring need and taking strides towards protecting their investments. They may have acquired Palmer for pennies in terms of draft picks, but they’re still on the hook for his salary and that of Larry Fitzgerald, who simply isn’t worth the value of his contract if his quarterback play isn’t at least respectable. Fixing the offensive line gives Palmer a chance which, in turn, helps utilize Fitzgerald’s talents. The Cardinals are another team with a lot of needs, but going offensive line early is a no-brainer.
08. Buffalo Bills | QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
As I write this, the quarterbacks on Buffalo’s depth chart are a couple of guys named Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson. So, like, they really need a quarterback.
Through my research for this post, I’ve come to notice that conventional wisdom seems to be new Bills coach Doug Marrone coveting Ryan Nassib, his quarterback at Syracuse. That may be true, but it doesn’t really make sense to me — at least not with the eighth overall pick. Plus, where’s the track record of coaches jumping to the pros and latching onto their collegiate quarterback? Steve Spurrier taking over the Redskins and employing Danny Wuerffel comes to mind, as does the Dolphins’ drafting of Ryan Tannehill, who’d been coached by offensive coordinator Mike Sherman in college, last year. It’s not unprecedented, but it seems a bit lazy to me to simply connect coaches with their former players and pack it in. Smith just makes the most sense here, especially given how I’ve projected other dominoes to fall.
09. New York Jets | OLB Barkevious Mingo, LSU
As long as Rex Ryan has a say in the process, I’m convinced the Jets will use every possible pick on defense. Of course, that’s backwards. Ryan’s a terrific defensive coach, which suggests to me that he should be able to get by with lesser talent on that side of the ball simply by virtue of his schematic and strategic talents. Since he’s taken over as coach of the Jets, he’s mostly neglected the offensive side of the ball, to the extent that he once admitted openly that he didn’t want to draft wide receiver Stephen Hill and instead preferred a defensive player. The jury is still out on Hill, but those comments speak to what I think has been the Jets’ biggest problem in the Ryan era: all defensive bravado and barely an attempt to rectify the sorry state of the offense.
At the same time, those comments suggest that Ryan’s involvement in the draft may be less than what you might get from other head coaches, especially given that his leash is exponentially shorter with a new general manager around. But, again, I refuse to accept that a team with Ryan as its head coach will invest a premium pick on an offensive player, and so I’ll continue to lean towards Mingo here until witnessing otherwise.
10. Tennessee Titans | DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida
With the premiere pass rushers off the board and Floyd lingering, this picks feels like something of a given. The Florida defensive tackle has long been written about as one of the three or four best prospects in this draft, but in the scenarios I’ve written about here, team need and the occasional surprise pick have led to him almost falling out of the top of the draft entirely. I don’t necessarily believe that the Titans will enter the draft with the defensive tackle position high on their list of targets, but situations can change in a heartbeat and if this one were to present itself, it’s difficult to imagine they look in another direction (to cornerback Xavier Rhodes or linebacker Jarvis Jones, for example).
Glancing over my top-10, this is the one pick that says the most about the value of mock drafts. If you peruse CBS Sports’ mock draft panel, for instance, you’ll notice that none of the six participants have Floyd going any later than the fourth pick. (As of this posting, all three of the mock drafters at NFL.com have Floyd going third overall.) Pete Prisco aside, there’s a decent chance those guys are more tapped in to things than I am. And by “decent” I mean “definite.” But the thing to remember about mock drafts is this: one surprising pick will send the entire thing into a tail spin. I just can’t trust that the Raiders will jump on Floyd as so many mocks — including that one — suggest. I can’t trust the Raiders to be predictable about anything, really. So dropping Floyd all the way to Tennessee is just sort of what happened when I factored in the odds of at least one unforeseen selection.
11. San Diego Chargers | OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
There’s a big part of me that believes the Chargers will opt for an offensive lineman, be it North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper or one of the top tackles were they to fall to them. It would make sense given new head coach Mike McCoy is an offensive guy. But slotting Jones here is a way of employing the same reverse logic I applied previously to Rex Ryan and the Jets: if you’re a good coach on one end of the ball, your need for talent there is less than it is on the other side, where you’re less inclined to beat teams strategically.
12. Miami Dolphins | OT D.J. Fluker, Alabama
I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve seen a cornerback slotted to the Dolphins here, but I’m having a hard time buying it. Even though it’s a position of need and the team invested heavily on the defensive side of the ball in free agency, the Dolphins have clearly made offensive improvement the utmost priority of this off-season. And if you’re going to draft a quarterback and spend big on receivers and a tight end, the logical next step is to protect those investments. This slot is several picks too high for Fluker and you have to imagine the Dolphins would prefer to see Johnson or even Warmack fall to them here. But if they don’t, Fluker seems like the safer bet than, say, Florida State corner Xavier Rhodes, who may not be the most ideal fit in the zone coverage scheme expected to be employed going forward. Add to that the depth at both offensive line and corner in this year’s draft and it stands to reason that that the Dolphins won’t lunge for a corner as quickly as they might a tackle, a position Jeff Ireland has notoriously coveted.
Homer note: this isn’t a pick I was thrilled about projecting. This off-season I’ve become the type of insufferable fan that clamors at the prospect of every explosive player in the draft, meaning I’d be psyched to see Tavon Austin or Tyler Eifert get snapped up here regardless of what was addressed in free agency. I just don’t think that’s reasonable to expect, especially from a regime that has historically invested early picks in grunts like Mike Pouncey and Jared Odrick rather than trendy playmakers.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers | CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
This pick hinges almost entirely on whether or not the Bucs are able to pry Darrelle Revis from the Jets. If they can, they obviously exit the market for cornerbacks. If they don’t, it’s hard to envision a scenario where they draft a player elsewhere. Personally, I don’t have strong feelings about Rhodes as a player, but I can tell you this much: if I’m Tampa, I’d rather pick him in this slot than fork this pick — plus others — over to the Jets for Revis, then turn around and offer my new corner a hefty new deal. Even if Revis recovers from ACL surgery and returns to being the best cover man in the league, the overall compensation is just too much for a player at a position that offenses can simply game plan around. Rhodes could be a bust, but giving up picks and taking on cost for a player coming off a major injury is the far greater risk.
14. Carolina Panthers | WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
I love the Panthers nucleus. Once they can get out from under a few of their exorbitant contracts — especially the ones erroneously handed to DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart — this is a team with enough upside to contend for the playoffs. But even with those big dollar deals on the books, this is one of a hand full of mediocre teams that should be in line for a few steps forward.
While they could use a defensive tackle and both Star Lotulelei and Sheldon Richardson linger, why not take the draft’s top rated receiver in an attempt to give Cam Newton weapons? Steve Smith will be 34-years-old by the time the new season starts and though Brandon LaFell has put together consecutive respectable seasons, it’s hard to envision him being the guy to take over once Smith fades away. Not only could Patterson be that guy in the long-term, but as a short-term option, he’s a player who provides a perfect complement to Smith’s measureables and skillset.
15. New Orleans Saints | DT Star Lotulelei, Utah
It seems like the Saints’ defense has been broken forever. At this point, it’s a given that Drew Brees and the offense are going to be prolific with what they’ve got, so going after anything other than defense here would seem a little irresponsible. Lotulelei would give the Saints the inside presence they clearly need and he would come at a decent value. Due to a heart condition that’s since been medically cleared, Lotulelei’s stock has dropped. He was once considered a top-10 or even top-5 talent. The Saints offense — especially with the return of Sean Payton — should keep them competitive, so they’re also in a position where they can afford to take a risk on a player who has difference-making upside.
16. St. Louis Rams | WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia
Austin is arguably the draft’s most exciting prospect and after losing both Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson to free agency, the Rams are in desperate need of a receiver (though I think the tandem of Chris Givens and Brian Quick are a solid under the radar duo). Austin’s dynamism is eerily similar to that of Percy Harvin: he’s fast as hell, elusive, and has had success lining up in a number of different places. If he’s still available here, I’m not sure what would possess them to go with anyone else, especially since they have a second first-round pick acquired in last year’s trade with the Redskins that netted RG3 for Washington.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers | DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State
The Steelers are old as dirt defensively and have a storied history of drafting players and developing them into studs (Lawrence Timmons jumps to mind), so this pick makes more than a lot of sense. A couple months back when mock drafts first started crawling their way around the internet, Werner’s name was regularly popping up within the first 10 picks. Mysteriously, that’s changed, but it speaks to the potential value of this particular player. If he was rated highly prior to all the silly individual workouts that measure a player’s strength and speed independent of the game of football, then why would his stock suddenly dip now? He’d be a steal here for Pittsburgh.
18. Dallas Cowboys | FS Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
The Cowboys safeties are straight up duds, with Will Allen being the only guy whose name you might recognize (though you’d likely just be confusing him with the other Will Allen who was actually a pretty good player for a time). Vaccaro is the kind of player who could immediately change the way the secondary plays, which is key given that the Cowboys’ secondary is generally woeful. There’s also the added benefit of keeping the former Longhorn in the same state he played college in, which is exactly the kind of marketing bonus Jerry Jones tends to get off on.
19. New York Giants | OLB Alec Ogletree, Georgia
The New York Giants have won two championships in recent years and one of the big reasons on both occasions was the ability to rush the passer. Having lost Osi Umenyiora, it seems logical to think the Giants would try to restock their tool shed a bit. Here’s the caveat: Ogletree recorded just three sacks in each of his last two seasons, so he isn’t exactly a prolific blitzer. But his potential and most projections suggest that he could blossom and if there’s a system in which that could happen, its New York’s.
20. Chicago Bears | OG Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
By hiring Marc Trestman, the Bears made it clear that they’re finally going to start valuing offense. In order to do that, you need to invest in offensive players, which means Cooper because an increasingly viable option. And even though they went out and signed Martellus Bennett, I was tempted to plug in Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert here. If they did indeed go in that direction, I wouldn’t be shocked. But Cooper gives them help along what has been a tattered and abused offensive line in recent years and addresses a need rather than satiates a desire.
21. Cincinnati Bengals | CB Desmond Trufant, Washington
There are a lot of perfectly tuned in, intelligent writers who have the Bengals taking Eddie Lacy, the running back from Alabama, in this position. It would make a lot of sense given that, between BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Cedric Benson before him, the Bengals have long since been overly reliant on plodding, one dimensional running backs. Lacy’s a tough, physical runner too, but he’s also considerably more versatile. Still, the Bengals have been run fairly intelligently in recent seasons and intelligent teams rarely draft running backs in the first round unless it’s their only need or the player’s talent defies convention. For the Bengals, neither line of reasoning applies. Instead, I think the Bengals go defense with either a corner, linebacker, or maybe even Sheldon Richardson, who hasn’t yet been plucked from my mock’s pool.
22. St. Louis Rams | SS Matt Elam, Florida
Full disclosure: before thinking it through, I plugged Notre Dame’s Eifert into this slot for the Rams. Then I remembered they signed Jared Cook and scrapped the thought, but part of me wishes Jeff Fisher’s team would be so bold. For a half dozen or so years, the Rams’ offense was Steven Jackson and a scrap heap of fill-ins. I’m not sold on Sam Bradford, but I think adding Austin and Eifert — even with Cook in place — in the same draft would be the kind of sweeping overhaul that could drastically reverse the fortunes of an offense. But alas, that’s mostly video game logic and Rams’ brass is wise enough to see that Elam fills a need, while going offense again — and especially Eifert — would be just a frivolous expenditure.
23. Minnesota Vikings | DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
How’s this for fortune? The Vikings will almost assuredly target a wide receiver in this month’s draft, but they could also use a defensive tackle and Richardson is a guy that probably should have come off the board a half dozen or so picks ago. Trading Percy Harvin to the Seahawks also ensures they have another pick just around the bend, so they can stand pat on a receiver and instead take the top player left.
24. Indianapolis Colts | DE Datone Jones, UCLA
With Andrew Luck and a gaggle of good receivers and tight ends secured, the Colts should focus their efforts on building a competitive defense. Jones is a disruptive player who had 19 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in college a year ago and could provide a seamless transition from Dwight Freeney. He may be markedly slower than Freeney, but the talent is there. And for the Colts, so is the need.
25. Minnesota Vikings | WR Keenan Allen, California
More fortune! It’s a bit of a bummer for Vikings fans to see Harvin leave town, but the offense may end up better off in the long run with the reliability of Greg Jennings and upside of Allen. The Cal product isn’t a burner and had a down year statistically in 2012 (blame it on the injury bug), but he showed enough flashes of greatness the year prior to be worth this slot. If you stumble upon early mock drafts like I do, you may also recall that Allen was at one time considered a top-10 caliber player. At 25th overall, the Vikings will gladly take the value.
26. Green Bay Packers | TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Jermichael Finley probably isn’t long for the job in Green Bay and, hell, even if he is, Eifert’s talent and what he could bring to an offense led by the game’s best quarterback is too much to pass up. It’s also a fairly common thing for teams to line-up with two receiving tight ends, so there’s a precedent for stocking up at the position. Of course, the Packers are in perpetual need of offensive line help, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see them lean in that direction. My only real concern here is the Packers’ almost deliberate unwillingness to do anything too glitzy, which adding Eifert might be. It’s almost like Ted Thompson and company get a thrill out of drafting linemen in the first round. The past four years, they’ve taken four total, splitting the picks across the offensive and defensive sides.
27. Houston Texans | QB E.J. Manuel, Florida State
Okay, I’m completely pulling this one out of left field.
In 2011, I truly believed that a healthy Texans team was the best in football. The problem was, they couldn’t get all of their guys healthy and on the field at the same time. They eventually lost Matt Schaub for the playoffs and were eliminated by the Ravens. It was a close game though and my take away was that if Schaub had played, Houston probably wins. I didn’t feel confidence in Schaub individually, but rather felt as though he fit well within the team as it was constructed and was good enough to be the difference in that particular contest. After 2012, I feel dramatically different. I still like Houston’s talent, but I think the quarterback position is a problem.
It’s also really difficult to envision a year where just one quarterback goes in the first-round of the draft. The Texans admittedly have greater areas of immediate need. They’ve needed a legitimate WR2 for pretty much Andre Johnson’s entire career. But even with another receiver, the Texans offense is only going to go as far as their quarterback, and I can’t help but feel like the potential of Manuel and the value of getting a possible franchise-changing passer this late in the draft is worth the shot. Plus, Schaub is respectable enough that he can continue playing for the immediate future and give Manuel a bit of time to develop.
28. Denver Broncos | DT Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
For the Broncos, this pick would both address a need and adhere to the best player available strategy. With the offense more or less set in stone entering 2013, it seems a given that Denver will go defense early, with the only real question being whether or not they look to safety (which doomed them a year ago against the Ravens) or the pass rush. Williams isn’t necessarily either, but he would be beneficial to helping the latter. This year’s draft is seemingly deep enough that the Broncos could come back and get a true pass rusher in the second or third round where they can get better overall value.
29. New England Patriots | CB Jamar Taylor, Boise State
Bill Belichick is widely regarded as a coaching wizard, but here’s what’s always baffled me: for a guy with a background in defense, why is his secondary always so suspect? Having to shove Troy Brown and Julian Edelman out there at cornerback isn’t clever or crafty, it’s evidence of neglect. It seems like every time they draft a corner or safety (think Ras-I Dowling, Patrick Chung, Darius Butler, and Terrence Wheatley), they struggle for a year or two and then disappear from the team. Their offensive picks — and even some of the guys they’ve brought in at linebacker — tend to work out well. Maybe it speaks to what I wrote earlier about drafting talent for where your coaching skills are weakest and relying on schematics with lesser talent where your coaching skills are their strongest. Either way, the secondary seems like the best place for the Patriots to
waste spend this pick.
30. Atlanta Falcons | TE Zach Ertz, Stanford
This upcoming season has got to be Tony Gonzalez’s last, right? With that in mind, I tend to have two different schools of thought: the first is that if you know you’re built to contend long-term and are going to lose a huge contributor in a year, you need to ensure you have a replacement in tow to try and fend off regression. We can agree that the Falcons are a team that should contend beyond just this next season, yeah? And then my second school of thought is that you’ve got one more year coming from a historically durable player, so you can put off filling the hole he’ll leave for another year and try to maximize your team’s potential now. Both forms of logic make sense, but I favor the first and, in this case at least, think they can function in unison. Ertz gives them potentially dominant tight end depth now in an effort to secure a championship, but he also allows them a good chance at a smooth transition after Gonzo’s eventual farewell.
31. San Francisco 49ers | FS Eric Reid, LSU
The 49ers have one of the deepest rosters in football, but their reported interest in Ed Reed and Charles Woodson during the first few days of free agency suggests the team is actively targeting an upgrade at safety. Reid represents the best player left at the position.
32. Baltimore Ravens | WR Robert Woods, USC
Contrary to popular belief, the Ravens have had a really good off-season. They’ve lost a lot of players with name value but have managed to replace most of those pieces with equal if not better alternatives, often saving money in the process. Swapping in Elvis Dumervil for Paul Kruger is an upgrade, as was adding Michael Huff to replace Ed Reed, whose name and past performance far outweigh his current level of production. They still need a linebacker to work the middle, which makes Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o a viable option, but I think Woods is too talented to pass up here. The loss of Anquan Boldin is a bit overstated (as terrific as he was in the playoffs, let us not forget that he never registered 1,000 yards in a season for the Ravens after coming over from the Cardinals in 2010), but I’m just not sold on the team expecting Jacoby Jones to fill those shoes and, subsequently, Tandon Doss to fill Jones’ in the receiving game. If you’ll recall, Jones had opportunities to be a WR2 in Houston and it didn’t stick.
The other thing to consider here is the Ravens’ track record of developing defensive players. Granted, you have to assume the leadership of Ray Lewis and Reed figured into that development a good deal. But if Baltimore is confident they can conjure up a productive linebacker like they’ve done in the past (Adalius Thomas was a sixth-rounder in 2009, while Bart Scott and Dannell Ellerbe were both undrafted signees), why not stick to the program?