The 2012 NFL season is about 75% of the way over, and we're heading into the home stretch of the regular season. For some teams, December is a time to buckle down and make that last push towards the Playoffs. For other teams, it's a time to evaluate your current personnel and plan ahead for 2013. And what better way to improve your team for the next season than the NFL Draft? That's right ladies and gents, it's time for Mock Draft 3.0! The draft order is the same as it would be if the season were already over. Today will cover the first sixteen picks, and tomorrow will cover the last sixteen picks.
1) Kansas City Chiefs - QB - Geno Smith - West Virginia:
Of all the teams currently vying for the #1 overall selection, the Chiefs might be the only one that would use that pick on a quarterback. All of the other top prospects either do not fit their scheme or play at a position where the team is already set rather comfortably. Therefore, considering that the alternative is selecting between Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn, it makes sense for them to take Geno Smith with the top pick. In actuality it is quite a bit of a reach and this seems like one of those times when there really is no QB deserving of the top pick, but Kansas City's needs dictate the selection.
2) Jacksonville Jaguars - DT - Star Lotulelei - Utah:
Jacksonville definitely has bigger needs to fill than defensive tackle; their offensive linemen range between mediocre and horrible (outside of Eugene Monroe), they have no reliable wide receivers, and their secondary has devolved into a mess as well. Dee Milliner would be tempting, but Star Lotulelei is too good to pass up. He's quite thoroughly dispelled any concerns about him being a one-year wonder with his 2012 being every bit as good as his breakout 2011 campaign. His collection of impressive athleticism and physical skills have drawn comparisons to a young Haloti Ngata.
3) Oakland Raiders - LB - Jarvis Jones - Georgia:
The Raiders and their fourteen total sacks on the season are the second-worst total in the NFL, besting only the Jacksonville Jaguars by one sack. Adding a player like Jarvis Jones would immediately jolt their pass-rushing prowess and give them a fearsome edge rusher, which they sorely lack. He could play either as a situation player akin to Aldon Smith in his rookie season, or come in from day one and replace the ineffective Miles Burris in the starting lineup.
4) Philadelphia Eagles - CB - Dee Milliner - Alabama:
The entire season has been one long and excruciating train wreck for the Eagles from start to eventual finish. I don't have the time nor the space to list all of the problems they've had, but it's pretty clear to see that their defense is in dire need of fixing, particularly in the back seven. Nnamdi Asomugha has been nothing but a disappointment since signing his big contract prior to 2011, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been up and down in his first full season as a starter with the club. The return of Jason Peters takes Luke Joeckel off of the table here, and with DeMeco Ryans manning the Mike linebacker spot, it's hard to find a fit for Manti Te'o. Adding Milliner will provide the most immediate returns, and should give Philly a strong young corner for a long time.
5) Carolina Panthers - DT - Johnathan Hankins - Ohio State:
The Panthers haven't had any competent defensive tackles, let alone intimidating forces at the position, since Ma'ake Kemoeatu in 2008. Since then they've tried to fill that giant void in the middle with players like Damione Lewis, Nick Hayden, Terrell McClain, Sione Fua, Ron Edwards, and Dwan Edwards. All of these attempts have failed, and it's no surprise that they've ranked 25th, 25th, 22nd and 20th in run defense the past four seasons. Enter Johnathan Hankins, who has the talent and ability to someday be the best player in this Draft, but issues with fatigue and effort have have limited him. If he can hammer out his conditioning problems and give full effort on every snap, Hankins will be a special player. If he doesn't, then he will still be an imposing force in the middle of the defensive line, which is something the Panthers have been in desperate need of for years.
6) San Diego Chargers - OT - Luke Joeckel - Texas A&M:
This is possibly the best hand in glove fit of this entire mock draft. The Chargers are currently employing one of the worst starting players in the league in Mike Harris at left tackle (though to be fair, Harris is an undrafted rookie forced into action due to injuries) and Jared Gaither has become a completely unreliable entity due to his chronic back problems. Meanwhile, Joeckel has been locking down the blindside for one of the most exciting offenses in college football this year, and has helped turned Johnny Manziel into a household name and Heisman candidate. This is the kind of move that makes complete sense for the Chargers and immediately makes them a better team. So naturally, I don't expect them to do it.
7) Cleveland Browns - DE - Bjoern Werner - Florida State:
Jabaal Sheard is solid young defensive end for the Browns on one side of the line, and Juqua Parker has been a valuable asset coming off the bench. Free agent acquisition Frostee Rucker however has been a disappointment since crossing the state of Ohio and parting from the Cincinnati Bengals. It will be interesting to see if the new regime in Cleveland will give Brandon Weeden another year or prefer to bring in their own guy, but until we get closer to the Draft we likely won't know more about that. Therefore I'm working with the assumption that Weeden is the starter in week one come 2013, and they look to spend this pick elsewhere. Werner has flourished this year, even with teammate Brandon Jenkins injured for most of the season and allowing teams to focus in on the German import. He overwhelmingly won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award, and his hard-hitting style of play should translate well to the next level.
8) Detroit Lions - LB - Manti Te'o - Notre Dame:
You really could just throw a dart at a depth chart of the Detroit Lions' defense and hit an area of need for them. They particularly need help in the back seven, and with no real prospects in the secondary worth taking at this point, "settling" for Manti Te'o is the next best solution. Some rearranging will have to be done in the linebacking corps, and it will likely result in DeAndre Levy losing his starting job, which Lions fans should be just fine with considering the player they will be getting in his place.
9) Arizona Cardinals - QB - Matt Barkley - USC:
Taylor Lewan is a very tempting choice here for the Cardinals considering how ungodly awful their offensive tackle situation currently is, but I fear the allure of a franchise quarterback will almost always win out at the end of the day. Kevin Kolb actually looked decent for the first time since being traded to the team before he was injured, but I doubt it was enough for the team to put their faith in him for next season. Barkley came into 2012 widely regarded as the top prospect in college football, and while his season has been a bit of a disappointment, the talent is still clearly there and could end up being a steal.
10) Tennessee Titans - G - Chance Warmack - Alabama:
Another seemingly perfect fit and it again comes along the offensive line. The Titans have one of the best pairs of offensive tackles in the game with Michael Roos and David Stewart, and Fernando Velasco has really come on this season in his first year as the starting center. Unfortunately they are rather weak as far as their guards go. Steve Hutchinson is well past his prime and might be best off retiring, and Leroy Harris just doesn't look up to snuff. Warmack isn't getting the same kind of hype as David DeCastro did last year, but he looks every bit as good of a prospect and is well worth taking at this point in the Draft.
11) Buffalo Bills - LB - Barkevious Mingo - LSU:
It's been a very disappointing season for the Bills. They made big splashes in free agency and looked ready to contend in the AFC, but their pricey acquisitions haven't worked out and outside of Cordy Glenn, they haven't gotten much production from their rookie class. Barkevious Mingo would be a fine pick for them, and could be played as a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker that could be moved around on the field to bring the pass rush from just about anywhere. He is raw and not particularly strong or powerful, but his speed and athleticism make him a formidable presence and if he can harness his skills into more refined techniques, he could be an All-Pro for years to come.
12) Miami Dolphins - OT - Taylor Lewan - Michigan:
The Dolphins find themselves in an interesting situation with 2008 #1 overall pick Jake Long. His contract expires at the end of this season, and his struggles with injuries with the past couple years have left some concerns about his ability to be the same players he was the first few years of his career. It's very possible that Miami lets Long walk and they attempt to replace him through free agency or the NFL Draft. In this scenario they end up replacing Long with another Michigan Wolverine stalwart in Taylor Lewan. He has all the natural talent and skill to play left tackle in the NFL, he just needs to improve his footwork and technique some.
13) New Orleans Saints - S - Eric Reid - LSU:
Remember what I said about the Lions and throwing darts? That pretty much applies twofold to the Saints as well. Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper both need to be replaced as soon as possible, and Eric Reid could come in and likely start from day one. The problem with most of these LSU prospects it seems is that they are all too raw and/or inconsistent. Reid's biggest strength is also his occasional weakness, as his relentless aggressiveness and nonstop intensity both allow him to make a lot of plays as well as make a few mistakes at the wrong times. That being said, I see Reid as a better prospect than Mark Barron was last year, and think he is deserving of this selection.
14) New York Jets - LB - Damontre Moore - Texas A&M:
One of the unexpected big risers in this year's draft class, Damontre Moore is a versatile pass-rushing prospect that would inject the New York Jets with a much needed dose of youth and energy. Moore is a fit for just about any defense due to his experience playing both as a linebacker in the 3-4 in previous years, and now a defensive end in the 4-3 in 2012. Pro Football Focus rates the Jets as the worst pass-rushing team in the league through thirteen weeks, and Moore would surely make quite an impact on this defense next season.
15) St. Louis Rams - OT - Jake Matthews - Texas A&M:
The Aggies go back-to-back here and have their third player drafted overall with the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews headed for the St. Louis Rams. What was once viewed as a glaring weakness for the team has actually gotten quite a bit better lately. Scott Wells and Harvey Dahl are good players at center and right guard respectively, Rodger Saffold has played well since returning from his week one injury, and Robert Turner has shown to be competent as well while filling in for Scott Wells during his injury. About the only spot now that really needs to be addressed is the right tackle position, where Chiefs' castoff Barry Richardson is currently manning the position. That being the case, it's hard to believe that Matthews wouldn't be able to immediately step in and be the starter.
16) Tampa Bay Buccaneers - CB - Johnthan Banks - Mississippi State:
The recent trade of Aqib Talib has left the Bucs a bit light in the secondary. E.J. Biggers has been a pleasant surprise with his competent play, but he needs to prove he can carry it into next year. Brandon McDonald is poor, and Eric Wright is poor and terribly overpaid. Leonard Johnson has been inconsistent as an undrafted free agent, but looks like a solid contributor for the future. Johnthan Banks is a smooth and fluid corner with great instincts and strong coverage skills who is hurt a bit by the belief that he is a bit slow footed. His lack of elite speed and quickness are the only things keeping him from being a top-tier prospect.
That's all for today; the second half of the Mock Draft will be posted at some point tomorrow. Thank you for reading, and if you have a positive or negative comment please leave it below and I will do my best to respond to it. Otherwise, stay tuned!