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.
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 selections for the second half of the draft, Picks 16 to 31. We made our first 15 picks Tuesday.
16. Arizona — Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Tennessee State
The Cardinals plan to move former corner Antrel Rolle to safety, which makes this position a priority early in the draft. DRC is the most dominant small-school corner since former Cardinals Pro Bowler Aeneas Williams starred at Southern University in the late Eighties. In Rodgers-Cromartie's 39 college starts, opposing QBs completed just 34 percent of passes thrown in his direction. Some will question the level of talent, and he has only one kidney, which is a serious medical concern, especially when taking him this high. But he stood out in the Senior Bowl against top talent and didn't miss a single game in college. He is big (6'2", 184) and fast (best time: 4.38) and is a superior playmaker, something this defense desperately needs.
17. Minnesota — Phillip Merling, DE, Clemson
The Vikings are part of a pretty long list of teams looking for a pass rusher. Kenechi Udeze's leukemia diagnosis and Erasmus James' third ACL surgery leave the Purple People short on edge rushers. Merling is coming off some surgery himself, for a sports hernia, but so was Pittsburgh TE Heath Miller when he was coming out of Virginia a few years backs and that turned out fine. Merling was highly productive in college, recording 12 sacks, 31 TFL and 45 QB pressures in just 38 career games (26 starts). He also has the frame to add some bulk and be effective moving inside on third down and attacking from the interior in the mold of the Giants' Justin Tuck. If the medical issue concerns the Vikes, Florida's Calais Campbell is also an option here.
18. Houston — Chris Williams, T, Vanderbilt
Williams is more finesse than brawn, but that makes him a good fit in coach Gary Kubiak's zone blocking scheme. The Texans addressed their need in the middle of the line with their trade for C Chris Meyers and now add an athletic lineman to protect their investment in QB Matt Schaub.
19. Philadelphia — Mike Jenkins, CB, South Florida
The Eagles have some questions in the secondary. CB Lito Sheppard may already be as good as gone, S Brian Dawkins isn't getting any younger, and they need help next to him at SS. Jenkins is not a strong tackler, but he has 4.3 speed and is very good in press coverage. Still, some teams like him more as a safety than a corner at the next level, and he has many Dawkins-like characteristics to his game. Some will argue for Miami S Kenny Phillips here or a game-breaking receiving threat, but Jenkins is a better athlete than Phillips and has the versatility to help them in more than one spot in the secondary. And there are plenty of guys in this draft who can run and catch who can be snatched up in the later rounds.
20. Tampa Bay — DeSean Jackson, WR, California
At some point, the Buccaneers need to find a threat to line up opposite Joey Galloway, who will turn 37 this year. Michael Clayton hasn't found the explosiveness that made him a rookie success, Ike Hilliard is a limited weapon, and Maurice Stovall is a bigger target for the middle of the field and hasn't made the impact most personnel people thought he would have by now. Jackson has been compared to Carolina's Steve Smith and Chicago's Devin Hester. He doesn't have Hester ability as a returner but he has better hands, and he is bigger than Smith with comparable speed, explosiveness and change-of-direction skills to be a viable deep threat.
21. Washington — Calais Campbell, DE, Miami
Campbell's former position coach at Miami is on Washington's staff and has a good feel for the player who recorded 19 sacks and 38½ tackles for loss in 25 career college starts. Campbell didn't handle the losing well at The U and let it affect his performance on the field last season. Kept motivated, however, he has tremendous size (6'8", 290) and is extremely explosive for a big man. He will demand double teams, which will finally take some pressure off DE Andre Carter on the other side and give him some help in getting to the QB.
22. Dallas — Antoine Cason, CB, Arizona
There is no guarantee Pacman Jones will ever play in the league again, so the idea that he will become a Cowboy sooner than later is a risk. Now, if the Cowboys know something about Jones' future status, they could go RB or WR here. But both positions are deep in talent this year and corner is the more pressing need. Cason is a playmaker who is always around the ball and can make plays after the catch. He needs help on his technique and must do a better job of rerouting receivers, but he can contribute right away as a nickel back and develop into an eventual starter.
23. Pittsburgh — Gosder Cherilus, T, Boston College
Cherilus has played LT and RT in college but may actually be better inside at G in the NFL. That's a good thing because the Steelers need help at both spots. Cherilus is a physical run blocker who fits the Pittsburgh mold.
24. Tennessee — Limas Sweed, WR, Texas
Who are the receivers on this team? Justin Gage, Roydell Williams and Justin McCareins? Yeah, it doesn't strike fear in our hearts, either. The Titans also need pass rushers, but with the top players at the position gone, Tennessee needs to give Vince Young some weapons in the passing game. Sweed is big and fast (he's 6'4", 215, and runs a 4.4 40) and had 20 TDs in 43 career games as a Longhorn. He's an instant red-zone threat but can also make plays in front of the defense and create plays in open space, and Young knows him well from their days together in Austin.
25. Seattle — Kentwan Balmer, DT, North Carolina
The Hawks lost Chuck Darby in free agency and the success of their defense is predicated on being able to protect LB Lofa Tatupu and creating pass rush pressure from the interior. Balmer can do both and really ignited his career under coach Butch Davis as a senior at Chapel Hill. He uses his hands well, which will be key in the NFL, and has improved his agility and mobility in postseason workouts.
26. Jacksonville — Quentin Groves, DE, Auburn
Thanks to some outstanding postseason workouts and his willingness to move to OLB during his senior season for the Tigers, many scouts are projecting Groves as more of a 3-4 pass-rushing LB. But the fact is he's the best pure pass rusher in this draft and can play DE at about 265 pounds and be effective in the NFL. The Jags were disappointed with the production of the aging Paul Spicer and Reggie Hayward, who hasn't been the same since his Achilles' injury in 2006. The team needs to create some outside pressure to open things up for John Henderson inside.
27. San Diego — Kenny Phillips, S, Miami
With Marlon McCree gone, the Bolts are left with Eric Weddle and Clinton Hart at safety. Phillips has the physical tools and ability to step in right away and challenge for a starting spot. With no pick until the fourth round, San Diego would love to address more pressing needs at OT and CB with this pick, but the best players at each position are gone, meaning they'll have to look for veteran replacements in those spots.
28. Dallas — Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon
WRs James Hardy (lack of size and bulk) and Malcolm Kelly (bad knees) both have issues negatively affecting their draft grades, and there will be other playmakers at the position available to them in the second and third rounds. With cornerback already addressed, the Pokes turn to their other pressing need at RB. Marion Barber is being handed the reins but he has never carried the load, even in college, so Dallas has to protect itself with a premier back who can contribute right away. Stewart is coming off toe surgery but he will be ready for the regular season. He has a blend of power and quickness not seen since LT, and though he didn't get a chance to showcase himself as a receiver or outside runner in college, he has solid hands and clearly has the second gear to take it to the house once in open space.
29. San Francisco — Branden Albert, G, Virginia
The Niners did a good job of addressing the WR position, along with some other needs, in free agency. They still need a pass rusher and an OT, but with the 10th pick in the second round coming up, San Fran will have players like OT Sam Baker and DE/OLBs Lawrence Jackson, Xavier Adibi and Cliff Avril available. Albert fills another need on the interior and is a physical run blocker with the size of an OT who can open holes for Frank Gore. He's a great value here, and the Niners would be happy to snatch up their replacement for the departed Justin Smiley if Albert were to fall this far.
30. Green Bay — Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas
Talib has great size at 6'1", 202, and is a very athletic player. He's very physical, has excellent hands, and does a good job of playing the ball in the air. With Charles Woodson and Al Harris both on the north side of 30, the Pack has to start developing their replacements on the corners. Talib is loaded with talent, but this situation gives him time to mature and improve his technique level to that of an NFL starter.
31. New York Giants — Jerod Mayo, LB, Tennessee
This is a nice pick for the Giants. Mayo was productive as an inside player for the Vols and has the smarts to play the position in the pros, but he may lack the size to be successful. He can play outside at the Will spot with his great range and closing speed, which may give the Giants some maneuverability once Mathias Kiwanuka returns to full health.