FOXSports.com's initial NFL mock draft
DEC 19, 2012 2:47p ET
Obviously, a lot can change between now and the end of the NFL regular season, and even more will change between the end of the season and April's draft. Injuries, failed drug tests, tremendous combine performances — we see them impact the draft every year.
I’ve watched a lot of the top talent both live and on tape, but there’s still a long way to go before February’s combine, let alone April’s draft, before I make any final evaluations on these players. At first glance? It’s a very weak quarterback class, there aren’t many game-breaking offensive talents and there are several serviceable, workmanlike interior offensive and defensive linemen. Sounds fun, right?! Again, it’s early, but I’m not doing flips over this year’s class. Matt Barkley — in my eyes, as of now — is not a first-round talent. Geno Smith is not worthy of the top overall pick. I also don't see Manti Te'o, the highly decorated middle linebacker out of Notre Dame, going in the top 15.
Using the NFL’s overall standings following Week 15, here's my latest top 32 and the places I could see college football’s top talent ending up.
Note: This mock assumes that all eligible players will be leaving for the draft and thus available for selection come April. It also does not account for potential trades. Draft-eligible non-seniors are noted with an asterisk.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, offensive tackle, Texas A&M*
The Chiefs are due for a change at the quarterback position, that’s for sure. I’m just not sure that quarterback is in this draft. Make no mistake about it — there’s no Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in this 2013 draft class. There may not be a Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles, Brock Osweiler, Brandon Weeden or Russell Wilson, either. I’ll get clobbered for this and so might their front office, but I think Kansas City is better off acquiring a veteran quarterback ( Alex Smith or Matt Flynn, perhaps) than rolling the dice on a rookie quarterback who’s unworthy of the top overall selection for the sake of drafting one. Joeckel — not even ranked in the top 10 of some other mock drafts — is one of the most promising offensive tackle prospects I’ve seen in the past five years. Very athletic. Nimble. He was fantastic in Mike Sherman’s scheme and even better in Kliff Kingsbury’s. This may not inspire the fan base, but it’s a franchise cornerstone.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Bjoern Werner, defensive end, Florida State*
The Jaguars defense has a league-low 15 sacks on the year. They’re tough against the run, but the pass rush just isn’t there. Fans will want a quarterback, too, but like the case with the Chiefs, there just isn’t one worth taking second overall. Gabbert in Year 3 and perhaps Chad Henne are better options than starting over with the guys in this draft. Werner’s a 6-foot-4 junior with quickness and strength. His 13 sacks led the ACC in 2012 and he is the current NCAA active leader in sacks with 23.5. And that’s with another year of eligibility left.
3. Oakland Raiders: Damontre Moore, defensive end, Texas A&M*
Where to start? The Raiders have so many needs all over the field and so little talent on the actual roster that they can play “pin the tail on the prospect” and upgrade somewhere. Moore’s likely going to be viewed as a bit of a reach at No. 3, but he’ll start rising up draft boards after the NFL Scouting Combine. He’s a 6-foot-4 terror off the edge, whose 12.5 sacks were tied for second in the nation in 2012. He led the Aggies in just about every defensive statistic last season. Has the look of a pro defensive end. That Raiders D needs a lot of help. Moore can play right away.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Dee Milliner, cornerback, Alabama*
The Philly offensive line has been terrible this season, but they’re injured. Jason Peters will be back next season. So will Todd Herremans. I’m more concerned with the Philly defensive backfield. Nnamdi Asomugha’s best days are behind him, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie can’t tackle, and the rest of the corners are just guys. Milliner isn’t just a guy. He’s the next in a long line of great Alabama corners to enter the NFL Draft. He’ll be a good fit in Philly — playing for whoever’s coaching them next season.
5. Detroit Lions: Taylor Lewan, offensive tackle, Michigan*
Detroit took Riley Reiff in the first round last year and Gosder Cherilus in the first round a few years back. The line could use another blue-chip talent. If Milliner falls to Detroit, they could pounce. I don’t see them reaching for Te’o, as I’ve seen many mock drafts pegging them to do. At 6-foot-7, 310 pounds, the size is there with Lewan. He started 34 of 35 games at left tackle for the Wolverines a few miles away and adds some real toughness to an offensive line in desperate need of some bite.
6. San Diego Chargers: Geno Smith, quarterback, West Virginia
Before you freak out over this one, hear me out. I don’t think the Chargers have quarterback as the top position of need, but if Smith slips to No. 6, he’s certainly worth considering here. Philip Rivers will be entering his 10th season in San Diego come August and he’s not getting any younger. At the very least, Smith can add another look for opposing defenses to prepare for. Hey, this is taking a chance, as we don’t even know who will be coaching this team next year, but it’s worth the consideration. Smith’s not a sure-thing top-five pick in my eyes, but he’s certainly an enticing selection if you’re San Diego.
7. Cleveland Browns: Jarvis Jones, outiside linebacker, Georgia*
Browns fans may be clamoring for a big-time receiver here, but I don’t see them making a move like that. Instead, I see them beefing up that already young and talented defense with another difference maker. Jones is one of my favorite players in college football. He plays fast, he plays angry and he’d be a wonderful fit in Cleveland’s 3-4 defensive attack. The coaching staff and front office could be entirely different next year, but I still like Jones to the Browns.
8. Buffalo Bills: Mike Glennon, quarterback, North Carolina State
Who?! I know, you’re expecting to see Matt Barkley or even Tyler Bray as the second quarterback taken in April. But Glennon’s my guy, and when it’s all said and done, he may be the first one taken. His coach, the recently fired Tom O’Brien, has compared him to another ex-O’Brien quarterback — Matt Ryan. He had a big senior season, completing 295 of 511 throws for 3,648 yards with 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Glennon’s name might not be familiar now. He’ll be a household name come April. Eighth to Buffalo makes a lot of sense to me.
9. Tennessee Titans: Star Lotulelei, defensive tackle, Utah
Admittedly, I haven’t seen as much of Lotulelei on tape as the first eight guys on my list, but from the few games I have seen — he pops off the screen as a defensive stud. He’s been compared to a lot of big defensive tackles, but the guy I keep thinking of is Haloti Ngata. He’s probably not a 10 sack-per-season guy (how many defensive tackles are?), but he’ll stop the run and he’ll apply pressure from the middle. If he slips to No. 9, I can’t imagine Tennessee hesitating too long before taking him.
10. Carolina Panthers: Johnathan Hankins, defensive tackle, Ohio State*
Hankins could be the first top-10 pick out of Ohio State since Vernon Gholston went sixth overall to the Jets in 2007. Hopefully, he’ll have a better NFL career. I’ve seen him slated anywhere from the teens to the second round, but I think he’s a top-10 guy. He occupies blockers, and though listed at 322 pounds, he is likely a bit heavier. He can step up and contribute right away for Carolina in 2013. This defensive line has some pieces, but still isn’t very good. They’ve been working on rebuilding it for years. Hankins could be the centerpiece.
11. Arizona Cardinals: Jake Matthews, offensive tackle, Texas A&M*
Three Aggies taken in the top 15 and none of their names are Johnny Football? It can happen. Arizona gets the 11th overall pick and has obvious quarterback needs, but there are no quarterbacks worth taking here. I think the Cardinals stick with Kevin Kolb for another season and finally — after years of ignoring it — take an offensive lineman in the first round. They’ll go with Matthews, the next NFL player from a family full of them. He can play either side and can play right away. He’d be an immediate upgrade in Arizona. Look for the Cardinals to take a quarterback at some point as insurance for Kolb, just not in the first round.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Johnthan Banks, cornerback, Mississippi State
Tampa Bay hit the jackpot on their first three draft picks a season ago, nailing homeruns with Mark Barron, Doug Martin and Lavonte David. Banks, who’s name is spelled Johnthan — not Johnathan — is the second best cornerback in this year’s draft. Tampa was stout against the rush this season and awful against the pass. Ronde Barber isn’t getting any younger and there’s not much depth behind him at cornerback. Banks is 6-foot-1, 190 pounds and can match up with receivers a bit bigger than him. A solid pick here for Tampa.
13. Miami Dolphins: Justin Hunter, wide receiver, Tennessee*
This is no slight to Cal’s Keenan Allen, the top-rated wide receiver on many other draft pundits’ boards, but I think Hunter will be the first wideout taken in April’s draft. Miami’s offense has played much better this season than many of us expected they would back in the summertime. This offseason, the front office should look to surround Ryan Tannehill with a few weapons. In 2012, Hunter led Tennessee in receptions (73), receiving yards (1,083), and touchdowns (9). At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, he has the size and speed to be a No. 1 NFL wide receiver. He’s a top-15 guy in my eyes.
14. New York Jets: Tyler Wilson, quarterback, Arkansas
I’ve been one of the many in the media insisting that the Jets wouldn’t eat the guaranteed $8 million Mark Sanchez is owed next season, but after Monday night’s five-turnover performance, I just don’t know how they keep him around for another year. Sanchez has regressed every year he’s been a pro, the Jets have gotten worse and the situation is altogether too toxic. New York starts anew, and with Smith and Glennon off the board, they shock the Radio City Music Hall crowd by passing on Barkley (another USC product) and grabbing Wilson, the 6-foot-2 quarterback out of Arkansas. After a huge 2011, Wilson made an Arkansas program that was reduced to rubble following Bobby Petrino’s dismissal somewhat respectable. He’s been through the fires and he’s come out on top. He’s also got a heck of an arm. This may be viewed with head-scratching in NYC, but Wilson could be the perfect fit for New York.
15. New Orleans Saints: Barkevious Mingo, outside linebacker, LSU*
It’s been quite some time since the Saints have had a pick this high in the draft ( Malcolm Jenkins in ’09), and I look for them to go local with it. Mingo, owner of arguably the greatest name in all of college football, had an up-and-down 2012 season. He’s still a first-round talent. At 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, he can play either defensive end or outside linebacker. A talented kid who has played in several big games, he could make an immediate impact with New Orleans.
16. St. Louis Rams: Eric Fisher, offensive tackle, Central Michigan*
It’s tough not to like the bounce-back second half the Rams had in 2012. Coach Fisher could take another Fisher in April. At 6-foot-7, 305 pounds, and downright nasty — Fisher fits the mold the Rams are taking. The Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold picks were relative swings and misses in ’09 and ’10. St. Louis needs to take another swing at a franchise offensive tackle. Fisher could be that guy.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Manti Te'o, linebacker, Notre Dame
I’m not as high on T’eo as a pro prospect as some other draftniks. Great kid, wonderful college player and still a first rounder — I just don’t see him going in the top 10. Larry Foote’s played well in the middle, but the Steelers could use a blue-chip inside linebacker talent for their aging linebacker corps. Jason Worilds, LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons are going to be three-fourths of that unit for years to come. Te’o would be a great final piece to that puzzle.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Chance Warmack, offensive guard, Alabama
Tony Romo’s having yet another strong statistical season, playing behind a below-average offensive line. Doug Free hasn’t been the player the Cowboys thought he’d be when they rewarded him with a big contract. Tyron Smith seemed to be called for a false start on every other play from scrimmage this season. Injuries stung, but there needs to be more good, young linemen protecting Romo. Warmack can play guard or center and he can play them in the big leagues right now.
19. New York Giants: Xavier Rhodes, cornerback, Florida State*
Prince Amukamara still hasn’t stayed healthy long enough or done enough on the field to justify his first-round selection in 2011. The Giants need more skilled players at cornerback, a position that continues to plague them. Rhodes is a 6-foot-1, 220-pound cornerback who flirted with leaving school early a year ago. He had a strong 2012. He’s a borderline first-, second-round talent.
20. Chicago Bears: Lane Johnson, offensive tackle, Oklahoma
I feel terrible for Jay Cutler every time I watch a Bears game. Unlike any other quarterback in the league, he’s under pressure every single time he drops back to pass. Often, he’s knocked down on an attempt. This is the worst offensive line in the league and I don’t think there’s even a close number two. The Bears need to take the highest rated offensive tackle, guard or center on their board — regardless of who else may still be out there this April. Cutler’s their most important investment and they need to protect him. I’m not doing flips over Johnson and I’m not sure he’s a first-round talent, but if he’s the top guy on their board, he’s the guy they need to take.
The following teams are currently on pace to make the playoffs, but elimination will determine the proper order. Minnesota is in due to current tiebreakers:
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Eric Reid, free safety, LSU*
The Bengals have gotten great contributions from a host of veteran defensive backs this season. Taylor Mays, Reggie Nelson, Terence Newman and Adam Jones have all been pleasant surprises. They’ve done so well that the Bengals’ younger, more dynamic defensive backs have been overshadowed. ‘ Dre Kirkpatrick should be ready to make an impact in 2013. Reid, a 6-foot-2 safety who can both lay the wood and defend against the pass, could be a mid-first-round steal if he opts to leave college early.
22. Minnesota Vikings: Johnathan Jenkins, defensive tackle, Georgia
I’m a big fan of Jenkins, the highly touted Juco transfer who became Georgia’s 3-4 defensive cog in the middle in 2012. Huge, fairly nimble and full of potential, he may work better in a 3-4 than Minnesota’s 4-3. Either scheme works, though. Jenkins can't play every down, but — think Terrence Cody in Baltimore — when he’s on the field, he can make a difference.
23. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Keenan Allen, wide receiver, California*
The Rams started to get some production from receiver Chris Givens down the stretch this season and Danny Amendola — when healthy — is a tremendous slot guy. But Brian Quick struggled in his rookie season, Brandon Gibson still goes up and down, and Austin Pettis isn’t a No. 1 receiver. Allen, if he slips this far, could be a nice addition to the receiving corps. At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, he’s got the size to be a reliable go-to receiver in the pros.
24. Seattle Seahawks: Tavon Austin, wide receiver, West Virginia
Russell Wilson has silenced all of his critics (including me) who thought he was too small, didn’t have a big enough arm and wasn’t worthy of a third-round pick in 2011 (me, me, me). Austin would be an incredible addition to the Seattle offense. With the new free access receivers get off the line, dynamic slot guys like Austin become all the more dangerous. He’s a lightning rod. This is Percy Harvin Part 2. Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Austin would make for quite a trio.
25. Indianapolis Colts: Jesse Williams, defensive tackle, Alabama
A big defensive tackle who can man the nose tackle spot in Indy’s 3-4, Williams is a versatile Australian-born big man who anchors college football’s most feared defensive unit. At 6-foot-3, 320 pounds, he’d be a nasty addition to Indy’s defensive line.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Sheldon Richardson, defensive tackle, Missouri*
Baltimore’s D has shown its age this season. They need to get younger at every position, including the defensive line. Teams ran all over the Ravens this year. Richardson is a 295-pound run stuffer who can get to the quarterback. He had 10 tackles for a loss and was Missouri’s first-ever All-SEC performer in 2012.
27. Green Bay Packers: Dallas Thomas, offensive tackle, Tennessee
The Packers spent their first six picks on defense a year ago and many of those picks have worked out. The offensive line, though serviceable this season, could use some depth. Thomas is a 6-foot-5, 310-pound tackle who actually played guard in 2012. He’s got versatility and can play numerous positions along the line. A solid selection for Green Bay.
28. New England Patriots: Khaseem Greene, outside linebacker, Rutgers
Greene had an outstanding season for the Scarlet Knights in Piscataway, racking up 125 tackles and six forced fumbles to lead the nation's No. 4 ranked scoring defense in 2012. He’s a Greg Schiano guy, something Bill Belichick’s had the pleasure of coaching in the pros countless times before. The Patriots defense has been much improved in 2012. Greene would be another sound addition to the unit.
29. San Francisco 49ers: Chase Thomas, linebacker, Stanford
Jim Harbaugh goes back to the well and plucks a player he recruited so many years ago. Thomas was an All-Pac 12 first-team selection for the second straight season this year. He led a Stanford defense that was first in the nation in rushing defense. He flies all over the field. These 49ers linebackers are first class. Add Thomas to the group and it’s almost unfair.
30. Denver Broncos: Sharrif Floyd, defensive tackle, Florida*
A native of Philadelphia and one of the top-rated high school recruits a few years ago, Floyd had a breakout 2012 campaign for the Gators. A 6-foot-3, 305-pound terror, Floyd led Florida with 11 tackles for a loss this season. He only had one sack, but he was a force to be reckoned with.
31. Houston Texans: Terrance Williams, wide receiver, Baylor
Keshawn Martin and Lestar Jean have made some plays, but depth behind Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter remains an issue in Houston. Williams had a better year for Baylor than Kendall Wright did a season ago. They’re different players, but Williams can make an impact at the next level. Williams led the nation in receiving in 2012.
32. Atlanta Falcons: Sam Montgomery, defensive end, LSU*
Can John Abraham play forever? Maybe. If not, it’d be in Atlanta’s best interest to add another pass rusher. Mingo and Reid may get all the headlines, but Montgomery is the defensive captain for LSU. He's 6-foot-5, 260 pounds and has long arms. Solid pickup this late if he’s there.