It’s officially draft week — my favorite week of the NFL’s calendar year.
Yes, I’m a bit of an odd duck. Sure, kickoff weekend and Super Bowl week have their perks, and watching actual football can be fun, but I love the NFL Draft. It’s where every fan of every team can look up and down a squad’s draft haul, not know a single name and conclude, “We’re going to the Super Bowl this year.”
I’ve done six mock drafts since the end of the 2012 season, and now it’s finally time to unveil my final one. This year’s particularly tough for a number of reasons:
1. I spoke to a front office executive over the weekend who said, “I don’t envy anyone doing a mock draft this year. There could be double-digit trades on the first day, alone.” Oof.
2. Six of the 10 teams drafting in the top 10 not only have new head coaches but also have new GMs. In the case of second-year GM Reggie McKenzie in Oakland, he didn’t have a pick until the end of the third round last year. It’s essentially his first draft, too.
3. It’s as wide open an NFL Draft as we’ve ever seen. There will be a pick that goes in the first round that you’ve likely never seen play. That’s how this one can go.
So, with that — let’s give it a shot. Note, I’ve built in a few trades, because I can. It’s my mock draft and I’ll trade if I want to.
Here’s seven rounds of draft goodness — 254 picks in all.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
In Alex Smith and Chase Daniel, Andy Reid has two capable West Coast offense quarterbacks who’ll likely battle for the starting gig this summer. Now that the quarterback position is taken care of, Reid and new GM John Dorsey will look to the offensive line. Joeckel had a great Pro Day and is the consensus No. 1 guy. With or without Branden Albert on the roster, Joeckel is the guy. Safe, solid, and a franchise cornerstone. Can’t go wrong.
I’m all in on the Gus Bradley era in Jacksonville. Every time I’ve met with the new head coach, he leaves me wanting to run through a wall. The enthusiasm and passion is real and so is optimism around the future of the Jaguars. Though I’ve seen Geno Smith, Dion Jordan and others linked to Jacksonville here, I think Floyd’s the pick if they keep it. Don’t be shocked, though, if Jacksonville shops this one. The Jags are more than just one player away.
3. TRADE: Detroit Lions (via Oakland): Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Oakland’s in a similar position as Jacksonville, in need of multiple picks and not just one player. Detroit, scared off by the possibility of Philadelphia grabbing Fisher at No. 4, trade the 5th overall pick, a fourth-rounder (132nd overall), and a future third-rounder to move up two spots to grab the star tackle out of Central Michigan. After losing both Gosder Cherilus (to the Colts) and Jeff Backus (to retirement) in the offseason, the Lions don’t mess around. They grab the 6-foot-7, 310-pound local product.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon
The Eagles’ defensive backfield has undergone an extreme makeover. Four new defensive backs — Bradley Fletcher, Cary Williams, Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips — should be in the starting lineup. With those additions, I don’t see the Eagles going with Dee Milliner, the cornerback out of Alabama, as many have suggested. Jordan, a fantastic athlete who played for new Eagles head coach Chip Kelly at Oregon, could be the guy at No. 4. Jordan is most favorably compared to Aldon Smith, the electric outside linebacker in San Francisco. Everyone’s fascinated to see what Kelly and GM Howie Roseman do here — I think Jordan can be the guy.
5. TRADE: Oakland Raiders (via Detroit): Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
In my hypothetical draft world, the Raiders move back two picks and still get a 1st-year starter and potential future All-Pro at No. 5. Lotulelei’s stock took a hit at the Combine when there were health concerns that kept him from working out. He performed well at his Pro Day, has checked out and been cleared medically, and could be the next Haloti Ngata. McKenzie didn’t have a first- or second-round pick a year ago. I think he goes with Lotulelei at fifth overall. Already married with two daughters, Lotulelei’s got his head on his shoulders. He’s a relentless worker with no ego — just the way McKenzie wants his Raiders.
6. Cleveland Browns: Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, DE, BYU
A freakishly athletic defensive end, more than one NFL player personnel man has told me they see some Jason Pierre-Paul in Ansah. He’s raw, he’s young, and he’s a naturally gifted athlete. I love Ansah’s story. As a freshman at BYU in 2009, he tried out for the basketball team. He didn’t make it. Then he gave track and field a shot. After seeing football being played, he figured he’d give it a go. Two years after the first sight of American football in his life, Ansah’s a top-10 prospect. He assured the media he “loves” football at the Combine, and though he’s incredibly raw, there may be no player in this draft with more potential for stardom. Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant, two offseason additions, will help the pass rush. Ansah could be a star.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Now that Bruce Arians has his starting quarterback in Carson Palmer, look for the Cardinals to go with an offensive lineman with their first pick. Johnson is a super athlete who came on really strong in 2012 and owned the Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine. He could be the next left tackle in the desert.
8. Buffalo Bills: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
Buffalo has needs all over and though there seems to be a lot of positivity around Tarvaris Jackson and Kevin Kolb, I wouldn’t be shocked if they still went with a quarterback. Numerous off-the-field concerns, including a four-game suspension at the start of the season and DUI charge in February, could ding Ogletree’s draft stock. However, I don’t think he escapes the top 10. He plays inside and outside, and can maneuver in either the 4-3 or the 3-4. Buffalo’s loaded up on its front four in recent years. It’s time the franchise addresses the linebackers. This might be met with head-scratches at Radio City and in Western New York, but I think it’s a great fit.
9. New York Jets: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
The Jets have needs on both sides of the ball. Their defense needs outside pass rushers, but the offense needs playmakers. Austin is just that. One of the fastest players in the draft, he’s most often compared to Percy Harvin and Wes Welker. He could end up being better than both. Dynamic both at the line of scrimmage and in the slot, he’s a prototype for the new type of offensive weapon. Truly an X-factor. The Jets could use one of those. They can use two or three, to be honest.
Warmack was a man amongst boys in college at Alabama. At just 6-foot-2 and 317 pounds, he measured in a bit smaller than I expected at the Combine in Indianapolis. He’s still a can’t miss here, if you’re the Titans. To go with four-year veteran Andy Levitre, they get another stud offensive guard, solidifying the middle for Shonn Greene and Chris Johnson. Few men on earth know the offensive line like head coach Mike Munchak and OL coach Bruce Matthews. They’ll be awfully happy with the addition of Warmack.
11. TRADE: Dallas Cowboys (via San Diego): Jonathan Cooper, G/C, North Carolina
For the second straight year, Jerry Jones moves up in the first round to get his man. Dallas swaps their first overall pick (18th) and gives San Diego their fourth-rounder (114th overall) and a future third to move up seven spots and grab Cooper. Last year, Dallas moved up to get cornerback Morris Claiborne. This time, they go offense. Tony Romo got a big pay day earlier this month. Now, the Cowboys need to invest in protecting him. He had a big statistical year in 2012 despite playing behind a terrible offensive line. Tackle Doug Free hasn’t been the player the Cowboys thought he’d be and fellow tackle 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. Cooper could be a great addition to the line. The 6-foot-2, 310-pound road paver pumped out 35 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press and impressed in interviews at the Combine.
12. Miami Dolphins: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Even though he had surgery on a torn labrum last month and there’s a lot of talk about Houston’s D.J. Hayden jumping him on draft boards, Milliner is the first cornerback selected in the draft. He ran a blistering 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds in Indianapolis at the Combine and has interviewed well with teams. The Dolphins lost both their starting cornerbacks over the past 12 months, and though they did sign Brent Grimes in free agency, I think they’d jump at the chance to select Milliner. He’s listed as a top-five guy in some mock drafts. I’m concerned about the shoulder.
13. New York Jets (via Tampa Bay): Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
With Geno Smith still on the board at 13, the Jets shock the Radio City Music Hall crowd by passing on the quarterback and going with Barkevious Mingo, the talented pass rusher out of LSU. The Darrelle Revis trade changed the complexion of New York’s roster and with Austin and Mingo, the Jets would have two first-round talents that could step in right away and contribute. There’s talk that Mingo’s undersized for the OLB in a 3-4, but I think he’s a perfect complement to 2012 first rounder Quinton Coples. Jets fans might not be thrilled with them passing on Smith, but I think they’ll go quarterback in the second round.
14. Carolina Panthers: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
The Panthers would be more than happy to see Werner drop all the way down to No. 14. A 6-4 pass rusher with exceptional quickness and strength, he didn’t “wow” in Indianapolis, but shouldn’t slip out of the top 20. His 13 sacks led the ACC in 2012 and he left Tallahassee as the NCAA active leader in sacks with 23.5. Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson already provide some pop from the edges in Carolina. Werner would be a wonderful addition at defensive end.
15. New Orleans Saints: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
At 6-1, 210 pounds, Rhodes ran a strong 4.43 40-yard-dash at the Combine and jumps off the screen in his game tape. He’s a big, fast physical specimen who can play right from the get-go. Though raw, he could help a defense that gave up the most yards in NFL history a season ago. He plays with a fire that will be appreciated by defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Good fit, here.
16. St. Louis Rams: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
I’m very high on the Rams two big free-agent signings this offseason, OT Jake Long and TE Jared Cook. The defense tied for the NFL lead in sacks a season ago and was the only unit to really put the clamps on San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick. I wouldn’t be shocked if head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead went offensive line here, adding depth to a unit that’s long been a problem. Fluker’s a big fella who needs some grooming, but he could be either a guard or tackle in the pros.
17. TRADE: Philadelphia Eagles (via Pittsburgh): Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Like I said, it’s my mock draft and I’ll make trades if I want to. Kelly and Roseman get aggressive and pounce on the opportunity to grab Smith when he slips all the way to 17. The trade would likely be for 2014’s first-round pick and the Eagles’ second-round pick this year. Geno goes to Philly where he backs up Michael Vick and Nick Foles for a year, learns Kelly’s offense, and is the ideal system QB. He could go as high as No. 4 to Philly. I think the Eagles end up with him if he slips out of the top 10.
18. TRADE: San Diego Chargers (via Dallas): Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Trufant had an outstanding Combine and has impressed in his individual workouts. The brother of two NFL players (Isiah and Marcus), the bloodlines are there. He can cover the slot or the outside and will be a nice addition to John Pagano’s defense. The signing of CB Derek Cox helped the Chargers’ defensive backfield, but Trufant could be a star. 19. New York Giants: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Several familiar faces — most notably Chris Canty, Osi Umenyiora and Kenny Phillips — won’t be suiting up for the Giants next season. Look for GM Jerry Reese and head coach Tom Coughlin to find some young talent in the draft. Richardson is a pass-rushing menace on the inside and was the first Missouri player to be voted All-SEC. He’s quick and nimble inside and has versatility.
20. Chicago Bears: Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State
I think Jermon Bushrod (signed away from New Orleans) was just the start of the offensive line upgrades in Chicago this offseason. Watson’s a project, having only played one year of college football at FSU, but an intriguing thought at 20. He grew up in England, played basketball before football, and is still learning the game. At 6-5, 320 pounds, he’s a physical specimen with quick feet; he just needs grooming. Head coach Marc Trestman’s going to be creative, different, and successful in building an offense around QB Jay Cutler’s talents. He called Cutler “exceptionally tough” in Arizona last month and detailed how his quarterback can “make all the throws.” It’ll be a waste if the offensive line plays like it did in 2012. Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer can certainly coach him up.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
The Bengals never draft safeties, but with Vaccaro still on the board at 21st overall, I can see them taking him. Vaccaro didn’t leave Indianapolis with the “Top 10” label I think a lot of pundits expected he would, but he still had a great week back in February. He’s the versatile kind of defensive back NFL teams crave — capable of covering slot recievers, big No. 1s and tight ends. He can play free or strong safety at the next level and he’s like a missile when sent on a blitz. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer worked miracles with a mediocre secondary last season. 2012 first rounder Dre Kirkpatrick’s rookie season was a bit of a bust due to injuries, but there’s hope that he can make an impact in his second year. Vaccaro would be a wonderful complement in the middle. 22. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Eric Reid, S, LSU
The Rams drafted — and got great production from — two cornerbacks last year. With the second of their two first-round picks, look for them to scoop up Reid if he’s still on the board at 22. Wide receiver could be a possibility, here, but the Rams’ brass seems to like second-year guys Chris Givens and Brian Quick a bit more than the general public. Reid had a better 2011 than 2012. He’ll be a solid pro.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Robert Woods, WR, USC
The Vikings traded Percy Harvin, their top receiver, on March 11. They signed Greg Jennings less than a week later. With two first-round picks, look for them to pick up another wideout in the NFL Draft. I haven’t seen Woods mentioned in a lot of first-round chatter, but I have him as the second receiver on my board. Reliable, tough and experienced, he’d be an immediate impact player for the Vikings. USC receivers haven’t had a ton of success in the league of late, but Woods could be the exception.
24. Indianapolis Colts: D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston
The Colts drafted offensive players with nine of their 10 draft picks a season ago. They’ve worked hard this offseason to add a host of talented free agents on the defensive side of the ball, including Erik Walden, Ricky Jean-Francois, LaRon Landry, Greg Toler and Aubrayo Franklin. I don’t think they’re done addressing the D. Hayden has an incredible story and is being discussed as a potential top-15 guy now. If he slips to 24, the Colts could pounce.
25. Minnesota Vikings (via Seattle): Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
Williams has some heat on his stock. A lot of guys I speak to think he can sneak into the top 20. If Minnesota goes with a WR at 23, as many have them doing with Keenan Allen (and I have them doing with Woods), don’t be shocked if they look to beef up the defensive line. Williams is a 6-2, 313-pound run stuffer who can get to the QB. He excelled on a UNC defense loaded with stars. I think he could end up being a better pro player than college player.
26. Green Bay Packers: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
Williams is a versatile Australian-born big man who anchors college football’s most feared defensive unit. At 6-3, 323 pounds, he’d be a nasty addition to a unit that’s already improving. Green Bay took defensive players with their first six selections in 2012. Look for them to address the D in the first round in 2013, as well.
27. TRADE: Buffalo Bills (via Houston): Matt Barkley, QB, USC
Our biggest trade in the evening comes here. I’m told that the Bills, linked by everyone to be hot on Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib, are quite interested in Barkley, as well. In my draft, the Bills trade up from the second round to get into the end of the first, giving up their second-rounder this year and their second-rounder next year. Though the shoulder and cold weather might be a concern for some, Barkley has eight years of experience as the starting quarterback between Mater Dei High School and USC. He’s a wizard on the blackboard and a natural-born leader. He could give Kolb and Jackson a challenge for the starting job.
28. Denver Broncos: Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
The Broncos re-signed Kevin Vickerson and went out and got Terrence Knighton in free agency, bolstering their interior defensive line. Their work might not be done on the D-line. Jones is a multi-purpose defensive end who could play either the 3 or 5 technique. At 6-4, 283 pounds, he’s got the ability to get to the quarterback. The loss of Elvis Dumervil to Baltimore stings; Jones could help lessen the blow.
29. New England Patriots: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Bill Belichick and Co. jump on the top player available when he slips all the way to 29. This is a bit of a roll of the dice, but the upside greatly outweighs the risk. Jones, a star pass rusher at Georgia, didn’t perform at the Combine in February and then ran a sub-par 40-yard dash at his Pro Day in blistering wind. Don’t look too much into any of that. He’s a ferocious outside edge rusher who fits the Belichick mode.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Tony Gonzalez is back for another year, but he’s not back forever. Eifert could join the Falcons, learn from the master and be ready to star in 2014. The top tight end in this year’s draft class, Eifert could go as high as the top 10. If he slides to 30, Atlanta should pounce.
31. San Francisco 49ers: John Cyprien, S, Florida International
The 49ers have 13 picks this April, leading me to call this year’s annual event “The San Francisco 49ers Invitational.” Look for the 49ers to entertain a lot of offers and wield a lot of power. Also, look for them to do the unexpected. No one saw them taking A.J. Jenkins in the first round a season ago. Cyprien — a little-known strong safety prospect out of FIU — could be the surprise of the first round. A 6-1 bolt of lightning, he can cover and hit. His athleticism is off the charts.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Justin Pugh, OT, Syracuse
The Ravens defense will look very different in 2013, with new additions like Dumervil, Canty, Marcus Spears and Rolando McClain joining the Super Bowl winners. The offensive line stepped up in the playoffs after a late-season shakeup. I wouldn’t be surprised if GM Ozzie Newsome went with a tackle like Pugh at 32.
33. Jacksonville: Matt Elam, S, Florida
34. San Francisco (via Kansas City): Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
35. Pittsburgh (via Philadelphia in trade above): Cornellius “Tank” Carradine, DE, Florida State
36. Detroit: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
37. Cincinnati (from Oakland): Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State