It's that time of the year again. With only a few weeks of football left for the teams that will miss the playoffs and the college season winding to a close, thoughts turn to next year's draft. For Bucs fans, it's perhaps understandable that our thoughts may stray there more than many others: we're all but eliminated from the playoffs and our current management's "build through the draft" mantra places added emphasis on fixing our team's issues via the draft.
It's very early, of course. We still don't have the final draft order or supplemental picks, free agency hasn't started, retirements haven't been announced, lots of juniors and sophomores haven't yet declared their intentions, and combines and team interviews always shuffle the big boards. In the coming weeks and months, I'll write assessments on our need positions and scouting reports for promising prospects. For now, here's a preliminary look at how I presently see the draft shaping up for the Bucs and the rest of the league.
A couple of notes:
- I haven't included trades. They're notoriously difficult to predict, especially this far ahead of time.
- Positions are based on a projection of the final five weeks of the season and the playoffs. I don't want to believe that the Bucs will finish 6-10 but until they prove me wrong, that's the objective projection based on the season to date. Tiebreakers are determined by strength of schedule.
- There are a lot of players included who might stay in school. When mock drafting this early, I find it easier to presume that a player will be declaring until they have definitively stated that they won't.
- Feedback is always welcome.
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Will they keep him? I think so.
2. Minnesota, Projected record: 2-14
Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Possibly the Vikings would look to trade down and get some extra picks. If they don't, I think that Kalil is the best value pick- a long term answer at LT.
3. St. Louis, Projected record: 2-14
Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
In this scenario, with Kalil off the board, I think that the Rams put the O-line off for a round and take Blackmon. If Bradford can remain upright, he'll have an amazing new weapon.
4. Miami, Projected record: 3-13
Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Miami won't hesitate to pull the trigger on Griffin, who's burned his way up draft boards due to a phenomenal season. With Griffin, the Dolphins would finally get their franchise QB.
5. Jacksonville, Projected record: 4-12
Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
There are several directions that Jacksonville could go with this pick, but at the end of the day their defense has actually been pretty good this year and they have less than nothing at WR. Jeffery's projects as the #2 receiver in the draft and has the physical gifts to be the #1 receiver for Blaine Gabbert on day one of he 2012 season.
6. Carolina, Projected record: 4-12
Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
With the top two WRs off the board, the BPA that fits a need for the Panthers is easily Claiborne. Carolina's secondary needs a lot of help and the #1 CB in the draft is a great foundation.
7. Cleveland, Projected record: 4-12
Matt Barkley, QB, USC
The Browns are going nowhere fast with Colt McCoy under center. He's shown zero progress in his second year. Yes, I know they need a new starting RB, but QB is a much bigger concern in the long run and Barkley is the kind of talent you hope not to find yourself in the position to draft too frequently.
8. Kansas City, Projected record: 4-12
Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
I've previously projected Kansas City to take a QB, but with the top three talents off the board, I think that they'll opt to patch the massive hole at LT instead.
9. Washington, Projected record: 5-11
Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
One team that won't hesitate to take a chance on Landry Jones is Mike Shanahan's Redskins- he'd be an instant upgrade over both Beck and Grossman.
10. Seattle, Projected record: 5-11
Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
With Seattle's QB woes, I could easily see them trading up (very possibly with Carolina or Jacksonville in this scenario). If they can't or don't and miss out on the top 4 QBs, Richardson becomes the BPA and would fill a key need with Marshawn Lynch entering free agency.
11. Arizona, Projected record: 6-10
Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Few teams are in as desperate a place for O-line help as Arizona. Reiff would provide them with solid protection for Kevin Kolb next year.
12. San Diego, Projected record: 6-10
Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
The Chargers have really struggled with pass rush and stopping the run this year. Coples has a massive upside and the potential to function well in either a 3-4 scheme or, if a new regime makes a change, a 4-3 scheme.
13. Tampa Bay, Projected record: 6-10
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Bucs need to start over in the secondary- they've been miserable against both the pass and rush this year, and tAqib Talib and Ronde Barber are both in doubt for next season. Kirkpatrick has the size, speed, and skills to match up with any receiver in the NFL. I know, the Bucs "like" Alfonzo Dennard; but I'm sure they liked him a whole lot more when they thought they'd be drafting somewhere in the 20s.
14. Philadelphia, Projected record: 7-9
Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina
The dream is over- and the poor play of the Eagles linebackers had a lot to do with it. Brown is a phenomenal prospect with blinding speed, and would be an immediate starter for Philly.
15. Tennessee, Projected record: 8-8
Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
The Titans' season lost most of its promise when Kenny Britt went down with an injury. If Tennessee wants to make a playoff run next year, they'll need to get some more weapons for Hasselbeck and/or Locker. Floyd's off-the-field issues will drop him down the board, but sooner or later a team is going to find his talent too irresistable.
16. Buffalo, Projected record: 8-8
Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama
The Bills are in desperate need of pass rush. Upshaw is likely the top 3-4 OLB on the board and an excellent needs-value pick for Buffalo.
17. Denver, Projected record: 9-7
Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
Champ Bailey can't play forever, and the Denver secondary is in need of some young blood. Dennard has been a standout at Nebraska and projects as the #3 CB on the board.
18. NY Giants, Projected record: 9-7
Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
I could also see the Giants addressing O-line here, but with the talent left on the board at the position and their ongoing needs at LB, Kuechly seems like a natural fit.
19. NY Jets, Projected record: 10-6
Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State
Burfict is dropping down the boards quickly due to his benching and lessened production. Still, some team will take a chance on him due to his aggressiveness, speed, and intensity. The Jets seem like the ideal place for a guy like Burfict, and Rex Ryan seems like the perfect guy to take that chance.
20. Chicago, Projected record: 10-6
Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
WR is their biggest need, but with the top three prospects off the table the Bears go for the conservative play and draft for the O-line again. With Konz at center, Garza can move back to guard and the whole line improves.
21. Cincinnati (from Oakland), Oakland's projected record: 10-6, AFC West champions, loss in wildcard round
Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Jenkins may have serious off-the-field issues, but Cincinnati has traditionally tolerated antics in return for solid play. Jenkins has tremendous talent and the Bengals need a replacement for the departed Jonathan Joseph.
22. Detroit, Projected record: 10-6, 6th seed wildcard, loss in wildcard round
David DeCastro, G, Stanford
Detroit's O-line has been its Achilles heel for a long time now. With the top three OTs off the table, look for the Lions to snatch up the #1 guard prospect in DeCastro.
23. Cleveland (from Atlanta), Atlanta's projected record: 11-5, 5th seed wildcard, loss in wildcard round
Barrett Jones, OT, Alabama
Cleveland has so many positions of need, it's hard to pick just one. There aren't any WRs or RBs left who are a clear top 25 pick, and O-line seems like it's slightly more pressing than D-line for the Browns. Jones is a very solid talent with a lot of versatility- the Browns could plug him into pretty much any slot on their line and be better.
24. Cincinnati, Projected record: 11-5, 6th seed wilcard, loss in wildcard round
Kelechi Osemele, G/T, Iowa State
The Bengals will look to protect Andy Dalton with their second pick. The interior of their line is weak and Bobbie Williams will likely be gone after the season; Osemele can function well as either a right tackle or guard.
25. Houston, Projected record: 11-5, AFC South champions, loss in divisional round
Alameda Ta'amu, NT, Washington
Shaun Cody has been serviceable for Houston, but the Texans need a long-term true nose tackle to serve as the core of their D-line. Ta'amu would be an excellent match for them with a good needs-value ratio.
26. Dallas, Projected record: 11-5, NFC East champions, loss in divisional round
Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
In this scenario, Dallas has the bad luck to be picking after the top players at their positions of need (O-line, secondary) are off the board. I could also see them taking a safety like T.J. McDonald or an O-lineman, but Minnifield seems like the best match for them here, particularly as 1) they need to draft a CB high this year and 2) lots of other teams will take a CB as their second pick before Dallas picks again.
27. Pittsburgh, Projected record: 12-4, 5th seed wildcard, loss in divisional round
Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame
It's tempting to mock Cordy Glenn to Pittsburgh, just because the guard position is generally acknowledged as their weakest. But if Te'o drops to them, the Steelers' doctrine of BPA and the possibility of Farrior retiring makes this a gimme pick. The rich get richer.
28. San Francisco, Projected record: 14-2, NFC West champions, loss in divisional round
Dwight Jones, WR, North Carolina
CB is arguably a more pressing position of need, but with the top five already off the board I think the Niners would address their biggest offensive need first. Jones has massive potential and at 6'4" and 215 lbs. he's a coverage nightmare for secondaries.
29. New England (from New Orleans), New Orleans' projected record: 13-3, NFC South champions, NFC championship game loss
Devon Still, DE/DT, Penn State
Andre Carter has helped the Patriots' pass rush, but a young defensive end is a huge need. Devon Still is a bargain this late in the first round and has the promise to develop as a long term solution for New England.
30. New England, Projected record: 13-3, AFC East champions, AFC championship game loss
Brandon Jenkins, DE/OLB, Florida State
New England is so tough to mock for, because they almost inevitably trade away one of their top picks for future picks. Nevertheless- I have to think they double-dip at defense this year. With that porous secondary I could easily see them taking Stephon Gilmore, T.J. McDonald, or Mark Barron. But Jenkins is too big a talent and the pass rush too much of a liability for the Patriots to pass on taking him. Until they trade away the pick, of course.
31. Baltimore, Projected record: 12-4, AFC North champions, AFC champions, Super Bowl loss
Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
There are several directions that Baltimore could go with this pick (O-line, pass rush, WR). But I think that the opportunity to draft a player to take over for Ray Lewis in a season or two is too good an opportunity to pass up.
32. Green Bay, Projected record: 16-0, NFC North champions, NFC champions, Super Bowl win
Ronnell Lewis, DE/OLB, Oklahoma
Eric Walden has been inconsistent and Matthews has been double-teamed, limiting his effectiveness. Green Bay could really use another playmaking OLB to line up across from him, and Lewis, who has been a physical force for Oklahoma looks ideal for their needs.
Mark Barron, S, Alabama
The Colts have so many holes it's hard to know where to begin. The secondary has to rate as one of the units in direst need though. Barron has higher value than the remaining CBs and could provide a linchpin to build around.
T.J. McDonald, S, USC
Two safeties in a row to start the second round. Again, McDonald has a higher value than the remaining CBs and the secondary is a huge concern.
35. St. Louis
Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
I could see St. Louis shoring up the O-line with this pick, but I think that Gilmore is a better needs/value pick at the top the second round. The Rams are paper thin in the secondary.
Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
Mike Pouncey and Jake Long are a solid beginning, but the rest of the Miami O-line is awful. Mike Adams provides the Dolphins with a crucial missing piece.
Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
In this scenario, Jacksonville gets one of the first big steals of the draft with Mercilus, who is arguably a top 25 talent. The Jaguars have a huge need for a pass rush DE.
Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson
Although Carolina drafted two DTs in the third round last year, neither have shown enough in their rookie season to be considered a long term solution. Thompson is strong in both run and pass coverage, and could function as a DE/DT in Carolina's 3-4 looks.
Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
If Miller enters the draft after his sophomore season, look for Cleveland to snap him up in the second round (for their third consecutive offensive pick). Miller has enormous potential to be an every down back in the NFL, and Cleveland has a huge need at that position.
40. Kansas City
Vinny Curry, DE/OLB, Marshall
The Kansas City pass rush could use some upgrades- the Chiefs are dead last in the league for sacks. Curry would fit the Chiefs' needs admirably.
Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia
Washington's interior line is a mess- Will Montgomery is a backup at best. Glenn is an excellent value choice here both for supporting Washington's run offense and protecting their new QB.
Nick Foles, QB, Arizona
Seattle misses out on the top 4 QBs in this scenario, but taking Foles in the second round isn't a bad consolation prize. Foles has the arm and pocket presence to develop into a legitimate NFL quarterback, though he'll likely end up sitting behind Tarvaris Jackson or Charlie Whitehurst for a good part of his first season.
43. Philadelphia (from Arizona)
Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
Philly would have loved for one of the top MLB prospects to fall to them, but the 5th receiver off the board fills a key need for them- a complement for Maclin. McNutt has excellent size, quality speed, and shows great downfield vision.
44. San Diego
Frank Alexander, DE/OLB, Oklahoma
San Diego's pass rush gets a second infusion with the addition of Alexander, who is rocketing up draft boards and possesses the exact physique the Chargers look for in a 3-4- rush LB. Like most picks where a new regime is possible, look for this to change if the scheme does.
45. Tampa Bay
Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska
The Bucs may be sorely tempted to take an offensive playmaker here with so many good WRs, RBs, and TEs left on the board. But David is too good a talent to pass up, considering the lackluster play of Tampa's LB corps this season. He's improved every year that he's played at Nebraska, with 112 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions so far this year.
Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech
Asante Samuels isn't coming back next year, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has disappointed. Odd as it seems to mock a CB to the Eagles after the preseason hype this secondary received, this is a needs/value choice that makes sense.
Mike Brewster, C, Ohio State
The Titan's O-line has been abysmal all season long. Drafting Brewster would give Tennessee a top talent in the middle and would allow them to shift Eugene Amano to left guard, effectively upgrading both positions.
Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers
The Bills are in desperate need of a receiver besides Steve Johnson. Sanu, who has been the core of the Rutgers offense, would be a huge asset for Buffalo.
Chris Polk, RB, Washington
Denver's RBs don't have much tread left on their tires, and if Tebow's getting the start for the near future some buddies in the backfield are a necessity. Polk would be an excellent choice for the Broncos- he projects as an every-down back and he's played well without the benft of a quality line to help pad his stats.
50. NY Giants
D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
The Giants need help all along their O-line. Kareem McKenzie has bombed at RT this season. If Fluker declares, he could be an instant starter at RT and might even challenge Beatty for LT in the future.
51. NY Jets
Bruce Irvin, DE/OLB, West Virginia
The Jets need to address their pass rush if they want to get back their reputation for smothering defense. Irvin should go a long way towards washing the taste of Vernon Gholston out of the Jets' mouths if he pans out.
Juron Criner, WR, Arizona
The Bears still lack a true playmaker at WR. If Criner is available late in the second round, they won't hesistate to jump- he has the size and skills to be their long term #1 receiver.
53. New England (from Oakland)
Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt
One of these days, New England will use all of its picks. Why not this year? They need the help on defense badly enough to justify it- Hayward would help to prop up an incredibly impotent pass defense.
Nate Potter, OT, Boise State
The Lions will thank their lucky stars if this scenario unfolds. Drafting two offensive linemen in the first two rounds isn't in the slighest bit sexy- but it will fulfill a huge need for Detroit. Potter might very well be their left tackle of the future.
Matt Reynolds, OT, BYU
I'm sorely tempted to mock Dwayne Allen to Atlanta, considering how much the imminent departure of Tony Gonzalez will affect their game. But that suspect O-line must come first with the team beginning its draft this late. Matt Reynolds may or may not have what it takes to be a left tackle in the NFL, but whatever he amounts to, it will hopefully be more than Sam Baker did.
Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Cedric Benson is close to finished in Cincinnati andthe Bengals need to find a new featured running back. Ball looks to be a prime prospect at the position and projects as the #4 RB taken in the draft.
Robert Lester, S, Alabama
Safety has been one of the few areas of softness with Houston's defense this year- I don't think that the Texans will pass up the opportunity to draft the #3 safety on the board with a late second round pick.
Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin
The Cowboys need to reinforce the interior of their line. Zitler provides excellent value in the late second round.
Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin
Everyone knows that the Steelers are big believers in BVA. But with O-line such a pressing concern, I doubt they'll split hairs. Wagner's one of the top players available on the board and he fills a key need.
60. San Francisco
Ryan Miller, G, Colorado
The secondary must wait because no player meets value here- however, there's an excellent player available at another key area of need: Ryan Miller to help shore up the weak interior of the Niners' O-line.
61. New Orleans
Travis Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma
The Saints luck out by have a good pick at a key position of need fall to their first selection deep in the late second round. Lewis has been slow since coming back early after an injury, but he should help New Orleans stop the run.
62. New England
Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma
New England needs more depth a wide receiver, and Broyles has proven he's got the abilities to apply to become Wes Welker's protege.
William Vlachos, C, Alabama
The Ravens need a new center, and the bottom of the second is an ideal place to grab Vlachos, the projected #3 center in the draft.
64. Green Bay
Billy Winn, DE/DT, Boise State
Again, the rich get richer. Neal's injury and Jenkins' departure have made depth at DE a priority for Green Bay.
Levy Adcock, OT, Oklahoma State
Triage continues in Indy as the Colts address their flailing O-line with Adcock, a solid prospect who's shuffled between LT and RT at Oklahoma State.
Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon
The second pick in a row to address Minnesota's secondary problems. Harris has some off-the-field issues, but his talent is undeniable and the Vikings need a new CB ASAP.
67. St. Louis
Bobby Massie, OT, Ole Miss
The Rams are swiftly realizing that Jason Smith is a bust. Drafting Massie would allow them to start him at RT, shift Saffold to the blind side, and see if Smith is any better as a guard.
Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson
Remember Keith Jackson? Can you recall another notable Miami tight end since he left the team in 1994? The Dolphins snag a bargain with Allen, widely considered the best TE in the draft.
Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Rashean Mathis is aging fast and will be a free agent this offseason. Jacksonville is almost certain to draft a new cornerback.
70. Chicago (from Carolina)
Andre Branch, DE, Clemson
Julius Peppers could use a partner on the other side of the line who gets consistent production. Branch is a quality prospect who could start in his rookie season.
Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin
The offensive overhaul continues in Cleveland. Toon has excelled at Wisconsin and has the size and speed to produce in the NFL.
72. Kansas City
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
The Matt Cassel era may not be over yet, but there's certainly ample reason to recruit a developmental player to groom behind him, Orton, and Palko. Tannehill has a lot of potential.
Audie Cole, ILB, North Carolina State
London Fletcher is 36 and a free agent after this season. Washington needs to plan for his replacement, and Cole represents a good value pick-up in the third round.
Andrew Datko, OT, Florida State
James Carpenter was the most inexplicable pick of the first round of last year's draft. Shockingly to no one outside Seattle, he hasn't flourished as an OT, and looks to be a better prospect as a guard. Datko has injury concerns but was projected to the first round before he went out for the season. The voices in Pete Carroll's head could do worse than to suggest Datko.
Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
Quick- name a Cardinals WR who's not Larry Fitzgerald! Yep. Arizona is in desperate need of a number two receiver. Wright's blinding speed and excellent hands have been a key aspect of Baylor's offense this season.
76. San Diego
Coryell Judie, CB, Texas A&M
The Chargers are thin in the secondary and whatever scheme their likely new coach chooses, they'll need some new d-backs.
77. Tampa Bay
LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
Some picks just make intuitive sense. James will likely fall this far because concerns about his size and past injuries will dampen teams' enthusiasm despite the electricity of his college production. Tampa Bay needs a speedy change-of-pace back to complement Blount's downhill power game. The reunion of these two Oregon Ducks in the warm waters of Tampa Bay could prove to be the resumption of a beautiful friendship. Thunder and lightning indeed.
Ray Ray Armstrong, S, Miami
Safety has been a major concern of the Eagles for quite some time. As with all my Eagles' picks, this presumes that Reid remains in Philly- if he doesn't, look for a major revision. Armstrong has a ton of character red flags, but since when would that concern Philly?
Danny Trevathan, OLB, Kentucky
Will Witherspoon is on his way out and Barrett Ruud has been hopeless. Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy are the future of the Titans' LB corps, but they need a Will. Enter Danny Trevathan, number five in the nation this year in tackles despite playing for an SEC punching bag.
Josh Chapman, NT, Alabama
Injuries have depleted the Buffalo line this year. Regardless of Kyle Williams and Torrel Troup's respective futures with the team, depth at nose tackle is an obvious need. Chapman is a massive value (literally) in the third round and would be huge security pick-up for the Bills.
Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
The edges are set, now Denver could use some help on of the interior of their line. Worthy could help plug that hole nicely.
82. NY Giants
Lucas Nix, G/T, Pittsburgh
Yet another O-line pick for the Giants, as their aging interior needs some fresh blood. Nix could step into the starting role at either guard position.
83. NY Jets
Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M
Plaxico Burress is not the long term answer at WR for the Jets. Look for them to recruit a playmaker in the first three rounds. Fuller isn't a deep threat, but he's a big man with good hands who's excellent in short and intermediate passing situations.
Winston Guy Jr., S, Kentucky
The Bears need an upgrade at free safety. Guy, one of the top prospects in the country at the position, would be an immediate shot in the arm to the Chicago secondary.
Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State (2010 supplemental draft)
Is he the future of the Raiders behind Carson Palmer? Outlook unclear, ask again later
Micah Hyde, CB, Iowa
Detroit's secondary is crying out for help. Hyde is a natural playmaker at cornerback- if he stays in school, expect him to go in the first round of 2013.
Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
Atlanta scores a coup with its second overall pick, landing a potentially heir to Tony Gonzalez's legacy.
Brandon Boykin, CB/KR, Georgia
Jonathan Joseph left a huge hole in Cincinnati's secondary when he departed. Boykin might not be a Joseph-level corner, but he'll help to fill a part of that void.
Shea McClellin, DE/OLB, Boise State
Mario Williams is a free agent this offseason. No matter how that's resolved, developing more talent at his position is a necessity for Houston's long-term success.
Brandon Taylor, FS, LSU
After addressing cornerback in the first round, the Cowboys will need to address the free safety position as well. Taylor's had a strong season at LSU and is moving up boards quickly.
Jared Crick, DE/DT, Nebraska
Crick's injury has obscured his draft position- if he's full-speed at the combine, expect him to move up. If he's still recovering, Pittsburgh might snag a deal here- they could use some depth at five technique and Crick's almost certainly the BVA here once he's healthy again.
92. San Francisco
Ben Jones, C, Georgia
The Niners need an upgrade at center badly, and Jones represents better value here than the remaining cornerbacks (their other so-far unaddressed high need position).
93. New Orleans
Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut
The Saints addressed the edge in the first round last year; with their second overall pick, they could very well address the interior. Reyes is a gifted athlete and a natural team leader.
94. New England
Melvin Ingram, DE/DT, South Carolina
The Patriots address the pash rush again by taking Ingram, who is already familiar with hybrid schemes and could function as either an end in a 3-4 or an interior spot in a 4--3. An excellent value pick at the end of the third.
Lonnie Edwards, G, Texas Tech
Both Ben Grubbs and Matt Birk will be free agents at the end of this season. If one of them departs, the Ravens will need to address the interior of their line.
96. Green Bay
Joel Foreman, G, Michigan State
The Packers don't have many pressing needs, but they could definitely use some depth on the interior of their O-line. Foreman is a solid choice to close the third round.