With less than 20 days until the draft, it's about time we start to give you our initial thoughts on who might be headed where.
The phone lines always heat up with trade talk once the picks start getting under way, and we don't expect that to change this year, especially with the Miami Dolphins' new boss scheduled to kick off the show. Bill Parcells gets a rash anytime he's too close to that No. 1 pick, so expect him to use his fully allotted time on the clock to find a suitor.
We won't get into the swapping of picks in this edition of the mock, but we'll just get some thoughts on the board this week and see how things shake out. Today we'll make the first 15 picks of the draft and we'll follow up Wednesday with the final 16 selections of Round 1.
1. Miami — Vernon Gholston, DE, Ohio State
Parcells showed with the Jets and Cowboys that he won't just switch to his infamous 3-4 defense as soon as he walks in the door. He will make sure he has the right players in place first, but he won't wait long to get them. Virginia's Chris Long is the popular No. 1 and wouldn't be a bad pick here, but Gholston is the more explosive athlete and, though not as polished as Long, may have greater upside.
2. St. Louis — Chris Long, DE, Virginia
The Rams would be pretty happy to see either Long (Chris or Jake) with horns on his helmet come training camp. The defense was 23rd in the NFL with just 31 sacks and Long, who had 36 tackles for loss and 20 sacks in 37 career starts, would give them three passing-down rushers, with Leonard Little and Adam Carriker already in place. This could be the piece that makes Jim Haslett's defense work, and St. Louis can address its O-line needs at the top of Round 2.
3. Atlanta — Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU
The Falcons have plenty of needs and plenty of picks to fill them (11 total and six in the top 100). But new head coach Mike Smith is a defensive guy who loves having the big guys creating havoc in the middle, a la his Henderson/Stroud combo in Jacksonville in recent years. Consider that Atlanta recorded just 25 sacks last season and Dorsey is the clear pick. Now that his injury status has been cleared up, he is back to being a top-three prospect.
4. Oakland — Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas
People will tell you the Raiders have more pressing needs, and they wouldn't be wrong. But LaMont Jordan is not the answer, Dominic Rhodes has never proven he can carry the load, and Justin Fargas did a nice job as an injury fill-in last season but even he broke down once he was asked to be the guy. McFadden travels with a posse and has some growing up to do, but his versatility and playmaking ability can single-handedly take the pressure off the Raiders' young QB and he has the speed Al Davis loves.
5. Kansas City — Jake Long, T, Michigan
When we listen to coach Herm Edwards talk, one thing seems pretty clear: This pick is for sale. The Chiefs have 10 selections in this draft and Edwards wants 15. But forced to make the pick, KC would be hard-pressed to pass on Long with its O-line in such complete shambles. Long steps in and starts right away at guard or tackle and begins the rebuilding of a unit that just two years ago was one of the best in the NFL.
6. Jets — Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy
With Sedrick Ellis and Matt Ryan still on the board, the Jets are sure to get calls for this pick, and they will jump at the chance to move down a few spots and still get a nice player who can help them right away. We think they'd be smart to take Ellis because we're not sure Kris Jenkins can hold up physically for a full season or play at a consistently high level. But having already spent big money on Jenkins and the first round of the draft very much a need-based proposition, look for McKelvin to be the pick. He's the top corner in the draft and is an explosive return man who will give the Jets a pair of young, fast cover guys on the corners.
7. New England — Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida
Corner is the greater need, but the pass-rushing talent doesn't run nearly as deep in this draft. Harvey had 19½ sacks and 30 TFL in his two seasons as a full-time starter with the Gators, but he is also a proven run stopper and looked very smooth in linebacker drills in workouts. With the Patriots LBs aging, Harvey has the tools to become the next Adalius Thomas. Look for the Pats to work the phones and trade out of this spot. Otherwise, the corner crop is deep and they can address their secondary in Round 2.
8. Baltimore — Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College
We've all seen the proverbial free-fallers in the draft in recent years, but it's hard to envision Ryan getting past the Ravens. We don't believe the QB of the future is on their roster and the present isn't looking too rosy, either. Ryan is a quality signalcaller who, despite whatever deficiencies, seems to find a way to win games. He doesn't have a big arm but he can excel in a short-to-intermediate passing game like the one new OC Cam Cameron will employ. This pick makes OT a must-have in Round 2, especially with the impending retirement of Jonathan Ogden.
9. Cincinnati — Sedrick Ellis, DT, Southern Cal
We don't expect Cincy will risk waiting this long to pick up Ellis, as the Bengals will have competition for his services from the Saints and Broncos among others, so a trade-up with the Jets or Patriots is a pretty good bet. Still, they are thrilled that he falls to them here. The Cats were dead last in sacks in 2007 with just 22, and that was with Justin Smith, who is now in San Francisco. Ellis is an under-tackle who uses his quickness and agility to shoot gaps and create penetration and will give Marvin Lewis the player he has needed since he arrived in the Queen City.
10. New Orleans — Keith Rivers, LB, Southern Cal
Yes, we know, they have Scott Fujita, they re-signed Mark Simoneau and they added Jonathan Vilma and Dan Morgan in the winter. But Simoneau shouldn't be starting, Vilma's knee injury is a bit of a mystery and Morgan is one hit to the head from retirement. Even if he isn't an immediate starter, Rivers can play inside or outside and begins the upgrade at one of the Saints' weakest positions.
11. Buffalo — Devin Thomas, WR, Michigan State
The early-entry junior has established himself on many boards as the top receiver in the draft, and at 6'2", 215, he fits the Bills' more specific need of a big possession receiver. He's a physical player with good strength, shields the ball well, and is a big target who is not afraid to go over the middle — that makes him a great complement to Lee Evans. But Thomas has 4.4 speed and can be a deep threat himself. Oklahoma's Malcolm Kelly has knee problems and Limas Sweed of Texas is coming off a wrist injury, so they are bigger risks. Mike Jenkins or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could be the pick here if the Bills decide to address their corner need instead.
12. Denver — Ryan Clady, T, Boise State
The injury to WR Brandon Marshall could push that position to the fore in Denver, and there is a movement to try to get LB D. J. Williams back to his natural position on the outside, which would make an ILB like Penn State's Dan Connor a viable option. But the retirement of Matt Lepsis makes this a no-brainer. Clady's size and athleticism makes him an excellent fit for the Broncos' zone blocking scheme, and he is projected as one of the top 10 players in the draft by most teams. He's a very good value here and won't fall past this spot.
13. Carolina — Jeff Otah, T, Pittsburgh
There are higher-rated players on our board, like RB Rashard Mendenhall, but as we mentioned above, in the salary-cap age the first round has become a place where the most immediate needs are met. Then the best-player-available school of thinking comes into effect later in the draft. The Panthers have plenty of needs and have spent a lot of time this off-season throwing all kinds of smokescreens as to their first-round intentions. They could take Virginia G Branden Albert here. He has the size and build to play either guard or tackle but has played only two games at OT. Otah is raw but is a mauler as a run blocker who could step in and start on the right side as a rookie, which would move franchise-tag player Jordan Gross to LT and allow them to move Travelle Wharton inside to guard. They need to get the run game going in Carolina and this is a good first step.
14. Chicago— Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois
The Bears have clear needs on the OL, but Mendenhall instantly makes the line better. He's the rare talent who can have that sort of impact right away and is actually the top-rated RB on many boards. This marks the end of the Ced Benson era (error?), and Adrian Peterson will continue in his third-down-back role, which is where he is best suited. With three picks in the next two rounds, Chicago can circle back and address needs on the O-line, at WR and maybe even at QB.
15. Detroit — Dan Connor, LB, Penn State
What the Lions really need is pass rush help, but most of the top DEs are gone at this point an Phillip Merling's recent sports hernia surgery makes him a minor medical risk. Scouts have not seen him work out since he became eligible for the draft, making him a bit of a reach with this pick. They also need help on the O-line, but Pitt's Otah is still a bit raw and Connor can contribute right away. The Bednarik Award winner helps absorb the loss of Boss Bailey and is ideally suited to start inside in Rod Marinelli's Tampa-2 scheme, which would allow current MLB Paris Lenon to move back to his natural position on the strong side.
Wednesday: Picks 16-31