As we look at the top 10 prospects on my board, you aren’t going to see a player sitting here that is all that surprising. At this point in the process, most analysts are going to have these same players somewhere in their top 10 list.
The major discrepancy will be in the order in which they are listed. Trying to guess the order in which these players are selected is just that … a guess.
Within this grouping, I see three players who I can whole heartedly place a blue chip tag.
Those three players are Patrick Peterson, Marcell Dareus and Von Miller. To me, a blue-chipper is a prospect who is 100 percent clean both on and off the field. There are no questions about his desire or his ability.
With Peterson, I see a player who can make an immediate impact at cornerback, safety and the return game. He has been the best overall player on my board since before he even worked out at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Dareus is a unique inside presence who is justifiably drawing comparisons to Warren Sapp. Miller is a natural pass rusher and his athleticism and game tape speaks for itself.
Julio Jones has closed the gap on A.J. Green, but in my opinion, Green is clearly the better prospect. Jones’ Combine workout was spectacular, and then to find out he did it with a fractured foot was awesomely impressive. He will provide a solid presence for many years, but Green is a unique talent who can take over a game.
At No. 10 is Anthony Castonzo. I have him higher on my board than Tyron Smith because I think he is snap ready the very first time he walks in the building. Smith probably does have a higher ceiling, but I’ll take the consistent performer over the potential at this point in the draft.
As we look at the players ranked 11 through 20, I see a group that could provide great value and many years of consistent production. This group is filled with defensive lineman, with four ends and one tackle.
You will also find the highest rated interior offensive lineman and a pair of offensive tackles in this grouping. But first and foremost, the two players that jump off the page are former Heisman Trophy winners in Mark Ingram and Cam Newton.
I have Newton ranked as my 17th best player in this draft, but I will admit, he will go much higher than this projection. He will most likely go No. 1 overall, but as I continue to evaluate players and project their potential for career success, I just can’t convince myself that Newton’s style of play will translate into the NFL. Ingram is a different story as he justifiably continues to draw comparison to Emmitt Smith.
In Ingram, I see a player that runs "angry" with a strong powerful lower body. I think he is a back that will end up proving to be worthy of a first-round pick, but the problem for Ingram is the value that teams may get in running backs such as Ryan Williams, Daniel Thomas and Kendall Hunter in later rounds. Because of that, he very easily could fall out of the first round , especially if the Dolphins and Patriots pass on him with both of their first-round picks.
J.J. Watt and Cameron Jordan are very comparable and a team looking for an immediate impact as a five-technique along a 3-4 defensive front could easily make an argument for either player. In the long run, they would be happy with either.
Finally, you will find Mike Pouncey sitting at 19 and the best interior lineman in this draft. Pouncey provides the versatility to play guard or center, but ultimately I see him as a starting guard early in his rookie season.
At this phase in the draft, many teams will be looking to move in and out of the first round. This is the part where quarterback needy teams that passed on a quarterback with their earlier pick, could trade back into the first round and select the quarterback they wanted all along.
Teams looking to trade out typically don’t have a quarterback need being in the back third of the first round (Seattle being the exception), so they are happy to stockpile more draft picks and not feel threatened that teams are moving up to select any other position than quarterback. It will be interesting to see how teams manipulate trades this year without having the ability to use current players to sweeten the deal.
Teams such as the Baltimore Ravens have become accustomed to picking in the late first round and have made a excelled here. Ray Lewis (26), Ed Reed (24), Todd Heap (31), Ben Grubbs (29) and Michael Oher (23) easily come to mind.
When you look at the prospects on my board, you see the defensive back tandem of Jimmy Smith and Aaron Williams. Smith, 25th on my board, has potentially top-10 talent but has off-the-field issues that raise major red flags. Some teams I have spoken with have taken him off their board altogether.
Williams is a player who could provide an immediate nickel presence and I believe is a better safety than cornerback. In fact, I have him listed as my best available safety, a full 34 spots ahead of Rahim Moore.
You will also see an ever present theme in the 21 through 30 grouping, which is the talent along the defensive line. With Cameron Heyward, Muhammad Wilkerson, Adrian Clayborn and Phil Taylor all representing great value here.
Speaking of great value, the player I crowned the "value pick of the draft" nearly two months ago at the NFL Scouting Combine is my 30th best available player, Derek Sherrod. In my opinion, Sherrod can go to a pass first system such as Indianapolis or Green Bay and start from Day 1 at offensive tackle.
Here are the players ranked in the top 31 through 40. This portion of the draft is where the gamesmanship comes into play.
With the new format, teams can now regroup after the first round as they have all night to adjust their boards and start scheming to trade up or back to select their desired player.
I am sure the first name that jumps off this list is Da’Quan Bowers as he slips all the way out of the first round to 34th overall. When I completed my very first mock draft (prior to the NFL Scouting Combine), I had Bowers being selected second overall to Denver, but with all the recent medical concerns, he falls down to 34.
Teams have told me — and media outlets have reported — that what once was thought to be a simple meniscus surgery was actually a microfracture surgery and his shelf life could be as short as three years. I can see Bowers facing a similar draft slide as Sergio Kindle did last year, with his own knee concerns dropping his stock to 43rd overall.
You will also notice that Ryan Mallett can be found at 38. While I do think that he has an NFL ready arm, his heavy feet in the pocket, and overall attitude make me much more comfortable slotting him in the second round rather than the first.
I would be very concerned how he would handle the pressure from the media and the fans if he were selected as a first round quarterback brought in to save the franchise.
In addition to Bowers, you will also find an influx of defensive lineman and pass rushers within this group. I have Justin Houston nine spots ahead of Akeem Ayers and include defensive tackles, Marvin Austin and Stephen Paea — all of whom, with maybe the exception of Paea, could be first round selections.
In looking at rankings 50 to 41 what jumps out right away is the 50th player on my board is Jake Locker. Many believed that Locker could have been the first overall selection had he came out last year, and therefore him falling 50 picks would be surprising.
Not for me. With his career completion percentage of 54 percent, I wouldn’t be comfortable taking him any higher than mid- to late second round. What may come as another surprise in the quarterback category is my placing of Christian Ponder higher than Locker. Ponder is my fourth ranked quarterback.
Ponder had the most "under center" snaps of all the top quarterbacks in this class and shows an elusiveness in the pocket with great footwork and keeping his eyes and shoulders downfield.
You will also notice the trio of wide receiver prospects in Torrey Smith (41), Titus Young (43), and Randall Cobb (48). In recent draft history, wide receivers who were selected in this same 41 to 50 grouping has been of great value to their respective teams. Players like Sidney Rice who was selected 44th overall in the 2007 draft and Eddie Royal at 42 in 2008. DeSean Jackson, arguably the most explosive big play receiver in the NFL, was selected 49th overall in 2008.