A quick disclaimer before the Ninja Army rips my draft “predictions.” I add a little more weight (not all) on what I would do at a certain pick than trying to predict what teams are going to do, especially after the first five picks.
We’ve seen it year-in, year-out. Aaron Rodgers will be no worse a top five pick. Brady Quinn won’t get past Miami at No. 9. Randy Moss and Warren Sapp are too risky to take early.
You have more luck picking a No. 11 seed advancing to the NCAA Final Four than mocking what Washington will do at No. 10 or who New Orleans will pick at 24, so why waste Internet space and your time. The key is how we project these rookies will progress (or struggle) at the next level. How that plays out where they end up? We’ll debate the pros and cons next month.
- Carolina – Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama.I’m not sure if notoriously frugal owner, Jerry Richardson, will pull the trigger on a QB who isn’t widely considered a franchise QB, even with a new rookie wage scale on the horizon. A defensive player will be much cheaper. Dareus, who may have single-handedly won the BCS Championship for ‘Bama in 2009 by knocking out Colt McCoy, is very quick and agile for his size, 6-3, 319. Although a so-so junior year, anchored by regular double-teams, cast a popular downgrade on Dareus; he does come from a pro-style scheme and a coaching staff littered with NFL minds. His ability to take on blocks and penetrate the backfield will bring a much-need frontline presence for the Panthers. Plus, Dareus will have an impact Week 1, something Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton can’t provide.
- Denver – Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU. It amazes me how many mocks have the best available player in the draft going outside the top five. I wonder if any of these mockers watched this guy play. Peterson dominated in high school, was a star at LSU as a freshmen and even increased his value his junior year. Peterson is simply a game-changer before kickoff. In his sophomore season before opponents started avoiding him, Peterson recorded had 43 solo tackles (better than some DL in this first round), 15 pass break-ups, two picks … reminder this is in the SEC. Last season, Peterson had 10 pass break-ups, four of which turned into picks. He’s not only a physical, lock-down corner who plays the run (rare to find); he’s a dynamic kick return man (better than Devin Hester in college). This guy ranked fourth in the SEC in all-purpose yards last year and never played a down on offense! Peterson should immediately make the Broncos a nice defensive play in fantasy.
- Buffalo – Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri. Although I actually feel Chan Gailey and his staff really like Ryan Fitzpatrick, believing they can win with him. I don’t see the fan base accepting anything less than Gabbert or Cam Newton. Gabbert is the more pro-ready QB, though not by much. Gabbert may have the prototypical NFL size, 6-4, 234, quick release and strong arm, but his decision making is a little left to be desired (i.e. versus Iowa in the Insight Bowl). I’m growing less weary of the pass-heavy spread offense as a deterrent for NFL success, as Sam Bradford and Drew Brees have shown otherwise. Also, NFL teams are running more plays from the shotgun formation. Can Gabbert read defenses, especially in the face of pressure? It’s hurt Chad Henne’s progress, but I’m guessing Buffalo is in better position to be patient. Plus, Gailey runs a QB friendly system that enables even lesser talented signal callers to succeed, right Fitzpatrick?
- Cincinnati – Cam Newton, QB, Auburn.I’m not a fan, but I’m not ignorant either. We need to remember he was a top recruit of Florida and would’ve won a championship there, taking over the reign from Timothy Tebow. He excelled at the junior college level before dominating in the best football conference in the country last year, so the on-the-field results speak for themselves. His “focus” may be questioned, but he already has better mechanics than Vince Young and Tebow (combined), and is just as – if not more – athletic than both. Netwon may throw the best (accurate) deep ball in the draft, which is a lost art in the NFL.
- Arizona – Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M. You don’t see too many OLBs run a 4.4 40-yard dash, which combined with his elusiveness on the edge, is worthy of a top five consideration. Miller was primarily, if not exclusively, used as a pass rusher in college. With good coaching, Miller could hone his raw coverage skills to make himself a game-changing defensive player. Arizona may not need that right away, which makes this an easy pick of a player who should immediately improve a lack-luster pass rush. He already provides a significant upgrade over Joey Porter.
- Cleveland – A.J. Green, WR, Georgia.This may be the most fantasy relevant draft pick of the first round, giving the Browns a much needed scoring threat on the edge to go with Peyton Hillis-led ground attack. Green’s body and leaping ability will remind many of Randy Moss. Having battled weekly against the athletic and physical DBs of the SEC, along with dominating the conference as a freshman, earns my respect. Icing on the cake; his hands. Described as soft with lengthy arms, Green made one-handed catches look routine. Having watched many of his games (15 in three years), I never saw him drop a pass. Something of which Julio Jones certainly can’t claim.
- San Francisco – Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn.The eye test would thrust Fairley to No. 1 overall. He was just as intricate to Auburn’s championship run as Newtown. As much so, critics claim he’s a one-year wonder and takes plays off. Uh, what NFL lineman doesn’t take plays off? If that’s the lone problem, I’d take those 5 to 10 difference-making plays Fairley makes over the 40 or so non-impacting snaps some other DL is going to give. I’m not sure many DL in this draft possess Fairley’s physical skills, a balance of brute strength and quick feet, give him a very explosive first-step at the snap and ability to split double teams… a la Warren Sapp.
- Tennessee – Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson.His knee injury, which he played with since November, is causing quite the draft slippage. I would be more pleased with the fact he corrected the injury (surgery) than continuing to play on it, something he did well enough last year to garner talk of being No. 1 overall. Bowers is simply the most talented DE in this draft, something scouts knew three years when he was the consensus No. 1 rated high school player in the country. Described as a Michael Strahan-like relentless run stopper and sack master, Bowers certainly possesses the natural ability to be a star. Can he live up to it? Only his knee will tell.
- Dallas – Tyron Smith, OT, USC.The Cowboys saw first-hand the importance of protecting Tony Romo when they spent the bulk of the season without him under center. Smith’s resume speaks for itself, beginning with him getting quality snaps at OT as a true freshman on a very talented team. He spent the next two seasons anchored as the Trojans starting right tackle. The main thing keeping him out of the top three in the draft is him having very little experience at LT, the most integral OL position in protecting a right-handed QB. However, the Cowboys will love to grab the most talented OL at this spot in the draft, filling a major need on a team that is arguably the most talented in the NFL East and one of the best on paper in NFC.
- Washington – Julio Jones, WR, Alabama. Physically, Julio Jones is probably be best WR talent to come into the league since Calvin Johnson, even before his staggering 4.3 40-yard dash at the combine on an injured foot. However, Jones dropped way too passes he should’ve caught. Is that correctable with a more talented QB and in an offensive system geared more to his ability (as opposed to Alabama’s run-first attack)? Probably. Great news is ‘Bama runs a pro-set, so Jones should easily transition to NFL routes. His imposing size will also immediately make him a desired red zone target, thus giving us an intriguing fantasy pick.