Make some space on your calendar next weekend, as the NFL Draft commences on Saturday and Sunday. As both an opportunity to see who your favorite NFL team will add to their roster, and a chance to find out the next destination for several ex-Vols, the Draft is one of my favorite sporting events to watch each year - which I know is true for lots of guys around the nation, much to the confusion of their wives and significant others. Alas, we press on...
Let me say up front that I expect this draft to be a real wild card based on potential trading, which is almost as impossible to project as the draft order itself. So this mock draft assumes no trades. We're also firing away a week before, since the team picking first has a habit of making deals with whomever they choose in the days before the draft, so as not to spoil it. So, without further hesitation, and with great fear and trembling...
1. Raiders - QB JaMarcus Russell (LSU)
At the end of the day, you just have to go with Russell with this pick. Calvin Johnson was unquestionably the best wide receiver in college football last year, and appears to be the most talented individual on the big board this year. But the Raiders - like all teams - need a quarterback, and drafting Johnson doesn't give them the same opportunity to improve, because who's going to throw it to him? Russell is a physical freak and has the arm strength of a god - I'm sure you've heard the stories about him throwing 40 yard strikes from his knees - and some of his mental question marks got answered in the second half of the 2006 college football season. Until then, Russell had a habit of fading and making highly questionable decisions under pressure - when he was intercepted at the start of the third quarter in the Tennessee-LSU game, I remember saying that he would never win a close game. Russell went on to lead an icy last minute drive to win that game, and lead LSU to a Sugar Bowl victory. So even if his mind is still a work in progress, his physical tools cannot be denied. Even if he struggles early and often in Oakland, and no matter how attractive Calvin Johnson is, Russell is the best choice for the Raiders at 1.
2. Lions - OT Joe Thomas (Wisconsin)
Again, Calvin Johnson is the great temptation here, especially if you're Matt Millen. But I keep thinking that eventually, he's going to start fearing for his life, and he can't go WR for the third year in a row. If you move past Johnson, this becomes an offense/defense debate, and the pick will be either Thomas or Clemson DE Gaines Adams. Even if Millen doesn't go with a wideout, it still seems to be an offensive mindset in Detroit. The Lions could trade down with the Bucs, let Tampa get Calvin Johnson, and still have their choice of Thomas/Adams at 4. But sticking with this pick, I'm still going with the big (6'8", 315) offensive lineman.
3. Browns - QB Brady Quinn (Notre Dame)
And yet again, we move past Calvin Johnson. The Browns signed Jamal Lewis, and say what you will about his age and physical condition, but I think that's enough to shy them away from Adrian Peterson. The last time Cleveland rolled the dice in this position, they entered the Tim Couch era, which didn't work out so well. And I'm not convinced at all that the Brady Quinn era would be any better - the "he played at Notre Dame, he's overrated" thing has worked pretty well recently - however, you've still gotta go with the QB here, because, like the Raiders, the options you've got in camp aren't going to get it done in the NFL. I think it's more likely that both Russell and Quinn are busts than that they both end up being worth these high picks. Regardless, the golden boy is the pick here.
4. Buccaneers - WR Calvin Johnson (Georgia Tech)
Tampa was in the playoffs two years ago, and when you add this stud to the mix, you might want to pencil them in there again this year. The 6'5" Yellow Jacket - and I can't tell you how many times I used the phrase "stop Calvin Johnson, stop Georgia Tech" in the last few years - would help balance out the Tampa offense, and is simply the most dynamic and sudden impact player in this draft. The last game-changing rookie WR was Randy Moss, though there have been others (most notably Anquan Boldin) who have had incredibly strong first years. And there have been lots of big, tall, fast WRs drafted in the last decade who didn't pan out. But this guy faced double teams every night for multiple seasons, and still turned in incredible numbers and highlight reel catches. Calvin Johnson is the real deal. Tampa Bay is the real lucky.
5. Cardinals - OT Levi Brown (Penn State)
This is a very interesting spot. If the Lions take Gaines Adams instead of Joe Thomas, the Cardinals will gladly take Thomas. If the draft unfolds the way I've got it up there, then Arizona has some choices. Offensive line is a big need - they've got the rest of the pieces on that side of the ball - and I just can't see them doing what a few mock drafters have on their board if Thomas is gone at this point: drafting Adrian Peterson, even though they just dropped a Brinks truck on The Edge last year. Arizona can get Levi Brown lower than this by trading down, as long as they stay ahead of the Dolphins at 9. But throwing all that out, I think Ken Whisenhunt goes the smashmouth route with this pick, and Levin Brown becomes a richer man than he thought he was going to be.
6. Redskins - DE Gaines Adams (Clemson)
And if he falls this far, there will be much rejoicing on Capitol Hill. If he's not around, the Skins will look at Amobi Okoye, but also look to shop the pick, especially if Adrian Peterson is still around. Either way, the Skins need defense and especially need help on the line. Adams is considered by all to be the best DE in the draft, and considered by some to be the best overall defensive player. While I might disagree with that second statement, I think he will be - whether it's with Detroit at 2 or here at 6 - the first defensive player taken.
7. Vikings - RB Adrian Peterson (Oklahoma)
Much like Calvin Johnson, there becomes a point where enough is enough and you just have to take a player of this level. Chester Taylor is a nice back, but Adrian Peterson could be a tremendous back. And it's becoming more and more habitual that the best teams in the NFL use two backs with great frequency - and not one great back and one lousy back, but two good backs. Peterson could help fill that void. He got it done, when healthy, every single week at OU. He'll have a chance to get it done with Minnesota.
8. Falcons - FS LaRon Landry (LSU)
If Adams isn't the best overall defensive player in this thing, it's LaRon Landry. A four year starter at LSU with a national championship ring to prove it, Landry can instantly upgrade a defense the way that Mike Doss, Roy Williams, and Ed Reed have done in their young careers. It's rare that you see a draft like this, where specific needs make the three or four best overall players in the draft, including Landry, fall this far.
9. Dolphins - DT Amobi Okoye (Louisville)
The 19 year old phenom, who could go as high as 5th, falls to the Dolphins, who get over the fact that two offensive tackles are gone at this point and decide to go defense. This might be the first time you could ever use the NBA argument of "he's young now, but give him a few years" in the NFL Draft. Okoye will have to grow up fast, but again, his potential and upside will be too much to pass up here.
10. Texans - CB Leon Hall (Michigan)
Every "expert" mock draft I've seen has Hall going here...but I'm uncomfortable with this because they signed Jamar Fletcher in the offseason. The Mario Williams situation last year will make them shy away from the best available players here, which includes Jamaal Anderson and Adam Carriker at DE. So we'll go with Leon Hall like everyone else here...but did you see what Dwayne Jarrett did to him in the Rose Bowl?
11. 49ers - DE Jamaal Anderson (Arkansas)
SanFran will probably take the best available player on the board, and while you've got debate here about who the next best defensive lineman is, Anderson's got the speed and size to at least make you think that he could be a solid, impact player on the defensive side of the ball for the Niners. If it comes down to Anderson or Adam Carriker, I just think Anderson is the more attractive pick.
12. Bills - LB Patrick Willis (Ole Miss)
Marshawn Lynch might be tempting here for the offensive minded, but the holes in Buffalo at linebacker are huge with the loss of London Fletcher and Takeo Spikes. Willis was a great player on a bad team for his entire career in Oxford, and the Bills can pencil him in as an instant starter to help bolster the defense. This pick is a nice marriage of quality and convenience.
13. Rams - DT Alan Branch (Michigan)
I just saw this mug (6'6", 330) breakdancing on SportsCenter this morning. Not sure if that moves him higher or lower on the board...the Rams have solid options everywhere on offense, and Branch can be stuck in the middle immediately to try and bolster a relatively weak defensive line. This seems to be another nice marriage pick.
14. Panthers - FS Reggie Nelson (Florida)
This would be seven defensive players in a row...Greg Olsen is going to be very tempting here, but I think their defensive needs are simply greater than their need to find someone to take the heat off of Steve Smith. Every mock draft I've seen has a different player going here, and Nelson has been all over the board in since January, but he can flat cover even if he's a little bit outside of someone like Landry's range. Nelson seems to be the best pick here.
15. Steelers - LB Paul Posluszny (Penn State)
Eight in a row on defense...Posluszny is probably the biggest "where will he go?" name on the board, because I've seen mock drafts that have him going at 11, and mock drafts that have him going in the second round. He's a relatively local boy, though not quite as local as Pitt CB Darrelle Revis, who could also go here. He also can play both inside and outside LB - the Steelers don't have any incredibly glaring needs, so they're free to do what they will here, and I think Posluszny is a solid choice at 15.
16. Packers - RB Marshawn Lynch (California)
Forgive me if I'm not as sold on Lynch as everyone else, but this isn't what I would do if I was picking, this is what I think the Packers will do. There are a host of WRs that are getting ready to come off the board, and Green Bay could go with any of them, but Lynch is the next best running back after Adrian Peterson - even if he's overrated - and Green Bay could use someone else to hand the ball to.
17. Jaguars - DE Jarvis Moss (Florida)
From what I read, Jacksonville is one of the few teams that would have Moss rated higher than Adam Carriker. Moss can flat fly off the edge, there's no doubt about that. Jacksonville could use a safety with Deon Grant now in Seattle, but if Reggie Nelson is off the board, it's hard to see them going that direction with this pick. The water is getting more and more muddy.
18. Bengals - CB Darrelle Revis (Pittsburgh)
If Adam Carriker is still around, which this draft has him being, lots of folks will pencil him in here. But Cincy already has quality defensive ends, and Revis is a solid player who will help upgrade the overall defense if he's still around here.
19. Titans - WR Robert Meachem (Tennessee)
Let's all hold our breath. Lots of things can go wrong here. The Titans have been incredibly solid in the Draft in the Jeff Fisher administration - Steve McNair in 95, Eddie George in 96, Derrick Mason in round four in 97, Kevin Dyson and Samari Rolle in 98, Jevon Kearse in 99, Keith Bulluck in 2000, Al Haynesworth in 02, Ben Troupe in the second round in 04, Pacman Jones in 05 (who's great on the field), and Vince Young last year. So, what could go wrong? Well, the Packers could take Meachem at 16. Or Darrelle Revis could still be on the board, and Pacman's absence could be tempting (Chris Houston from Arkansas is tempting here as well). But despite that glaring hole, the Titans MUST go RB or WR with this pick. If the Packers take Meachem, then Marshawn Lynch will probably be on the board here...but again, I think he's overrated. There are also other WRs out there, with Ted Ginn being the most attractive from what I hear. But look, you've gotta go with Meachem if he's on the board. The man can play, he does everything well, and Vince needs help. It's going to be a long and torturous Saturday afternoon leading up to this pick...and whoever the Titans take, we'll love 'em like he's our own. But let's hope it's Meachem.
20. Giants - OT Joe Staley (Central Michigan)
The first smaller school pick, though Central Michigan was a solid bowl team last year. Staley has been rocketing up the board in the last few weeks, and most of what I read says that the Giants are going to be the ones to call his name. Eli Manning says thank you.
21. Broncos - DE Adam Carriker (Nebraska)
If he falls this far, I think the Broncos will gladly take him. Denver could go several different directions here, including WR, but Carriker would be the best player left on the board at this point, and I think would be too good to pass up.
22. Cowboys - WR Ted Ginn Jr. (Ohio State)
We could have a Justin Harrell sighting here, but the reality is, T.O. and Terry Glenn aren't spring chickens. Ginn's return game presence and quickness make him even more attractive (stay away, Titans) and the Jerry Jones war room should find him to their liking.
23. Chiefs - WR Dwayne Bowe (LSU)
Can you name a Kansas City wide receiver that isn't known for his kickoff returns? That's what I thought. Bowe is 6'3" and has good hands, and should help balance out the offense. The rest of the potential first round wide receivers have more significant question marks after these four come off the board, though I think people are c-r-a-z-y to stay away from Dwayne Jarrett.
24. Patriots - CB Chris Houston (Arkansas)
The Deon Branch pick from Seattle...New England doesn't need any help, since they loaded up all over the place in the offseason, but if the speedy Houston falls this far, they'll say thank you very much. Houston just might be good enough to line up opposite Asante Samuel and start right away.
25. Jets - TE Greg Olsen (Miami)
It's been awhile since we've had a draft that seemingly lacked a Top 10 prototype tight end, but don't think that Olsen doesn't fit that mold. Chad Pennington will love throwing to this guy, who should help spice up the NYJ offense as they look to get back into the playoffs.
26. Eagles - FS Brandon Meriweather (Miami)
Here come the Hurricanes...Philly will go defense with this pick, and Meriweather - though he has some behavioral question marks - would fit in nicely with the rest of this defensive makeup. The addition of Takeo Spikes makes me think secondary instead of LB here.
27. Saints - CB Aaron Ross (Texas)
Might go wide receiver to supplant the loss of Joe Horn, which means you're into the second tier group (Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith, Anthony Gonzalez) at this point. But if Ross is still around, who could go to New England at 24, the Saints would be wise to take him.
28. Patriots - LB Lawrence Timmons (Florida State)
New England continues to load up on defense, because they answered all their offensive questions in free agency, it would seem. They could go offensive line (Arron Sears?) here, but Timmons seems to be a good choice.
29. Ravens - OT Justin Blalock (Texas)
The Ravnes need to go offensive line (again, Arron Sears?), but Blaylock appears to be the best option here. If Joe Staley from Central Michigan is still on the board, you can also pencil him in here at 29.
30. Chargers - WR Steve Smith (Southern Cal)
While, to me, it would be a crime if he comes off the board before Jarrett, San Diego will want speed, and that's Smith's forte. If he pans out, it's just bonus for the already explosive SD offense.
31. Bears - WR Dwayne Jarrett (Southern Cal)
The Bears could go offensive line, and if Lawrence Timmons is still around, the Lance Briggs situation may make them want to go that direction. But Sexy Rexy could use another target, and Jarrett is a man beast of a target. It behooves Jarrett to go late first round rather than early second - put him on a great team like Chicago or Indy, with other offensive playmakers, and he can thrive. Make him a lone target on a weaker offense, and he may struggle. Jarrett slips into the first round, just behind his USC teammate.
32. Colts - DT Justin Harrell (Tennessee)
While it would be a crime if the Colts took Jarrett - cause that's just not fair to everyone else - Indy will have the luxury of taking the best available player, and if Justin Harrell is still on the board, it'll be him.
You can also check out two quality mock drafts from my fellow pastor/sports blogger Jeff Wright at his website right here.