Mel Kiper Jr. may have the best hair on TV, and Todd McShay may provide the best analysis, but they’re not the only personalities with the moxie to mock the NFL Draft.
Here’s my projected first round:
1. Miami Dolphins. OT Jake Long (Michigan). New GM Bill Parcells wasted little time in selecting Long, signing him to a contract four days before the draft. And hey, the Dolphins need help everywhere, so it makes sense that they start with the best “big ugly” available.
2. St. Louis Rams. DL Chris Long (Virginia). Howie’s son is a sure bet to be an impact player for the next 10 years. The Rams need defense, any defense and Long makes long-term sense.
3. Atlanta Falcons. QB Matt Ryan (Boston College). Reportedly, Falcons owner Arthur Blank is enamored with Ryan, much the same way he was with another QB the Falcons drafted in the first round several years ago. They’d be better served picking Glenn Dorsey, but Blank writes the checks. “To Mike, I mean Matt, with love. Arthur.”
4. Oakland Raiders. RB Darren McFadden (Arkansas). Al Davis already has said that he likes him. And what’s not to like? The Raiders need offense like the Rams need defense and McFadden could be great for a team looking for a home run hitter.
5. Kansas City Chiefs. LB/DE Vernon Gholston (Ohio State). An impact player to be sure, Gholston was a freak at the NFL Combine and could be an instant Pro Bowl player. The Chiefs will be lucky if he falls this far; his potential career arch is much greater than any other defensive player on the board.
6. New York Jets. LB Keith Rivers (USC). Head coach Eric Mangini knows Bill Belichick and the Patriots, who have the following selection, covet Rivers for his intelligence. Mangini could prove he’s really a genius by taking Rivers right out from under Belichick’s nose.
7. New England Patiots. OT Ryan Clady (Boise St.) With Rivers gone, Belichick does the smart thing and takes the next best lineman on the board. Tom Brady can never have too much protection, and Clady can start right away at left tackle. Their names also rhyme. Clady. Brady.
8. Baltimore Ravens. DT Sedrick Ellis (USC). Unable to draft QB Matt Ryan, the Ravens select Ellis to help reinvigorate a defense that slumped last season. Ellis was ranked below LSU’s Glenn Dorsey on most draft boards, but rated higher at the NFL Combine and is without health concerns.
9. CIncinnati Bengals. DT Glenn Dorsey (LSU). He slipped from projections placing him at the top of the draft based upon his health issues (cracked shin bone, gimpy knees, etc.). The Bengals, as porous as ever on defense and morality, could use Dorsey’s huge body and flawless character.
10. New Orleans Saints. CB Mike Jenkins (South Florida). They were hoping local boy Glenn Dorsey would fall one more spot but take Jenkins because he’s the best defensive player still available. He could start almost immediately for the Saints, who were sinners on defense last season.
11. Buffalo Bills. WR Devin Thomas (Michigan State). Reportedly, they’ve already decided they want a receiver. That may not be the smartest move in such a defense-heavy draft but the Bills think they need another target for J.P. Losman or Trent Edwards or whomever.
12. Denver Broncos. OT Chris Williams (Vanderbilt). Mike Shanahan is determined to protect quarterback Jay Cutler, who happens to be a Vanderbilt product. Who better to do that than Williams, who some scouts say is the smartest person in the the draft.
13. Carolina Panthers. DE Derrick Harvey (Florida). A monster in the SEC the last three season, Harvey slips because of the draft overall depth on defense. Place Harvey opposite Julius Peppers and the Panthers have quite a defensive end tandem until Peppers retires.
14. Chicago Bears. OT Branden Albert (Virginia). The Bears are a mess so adding Albert is about the smartest move. He played guard at Virginia and practiced against Chris Long everyday and survived, so he’ll carry his weight in Chicago.
15. Detroit Lions. DE Philip Sterling (Clemson). The Lions hoped Harvey would fall further but select Sterling instead. An all-SEC selection the last two seasons, Sterling fits head coach Rod Marinelli’s defensive system and can start right away.
16. Arizona Cardinals. RB Rashard Mendenhall (Illinois). The Cardinals running game lacks explosiveness with Edgerrin James. Mendenall has the ability to change that. He led the Fightin’ Illini to the Rose Bowl last season and should be a solid pro back.
17. Kansas City Chiefs. OT Jeff Otah (Pittsburgh). The second-best run blocker in the draft, Otah will start immediately and help Larry Johnson and the Chiefs’ re-establish their abysmal running game next season.
18. Houston Texans. CB Leodis McKelvin (Troy). The fastest player at the NFL Combine, KcKelvin should start right away with injuries plaguing the Texans’ secondary. So what continues to plague the Texans’ offense?
19. Phidelphia Eagles. OT Godser Cherilus (Boston College). The Eagles desperately need help up front. Head coach Andy Reid and the Eagles wanted Vanderbilt’s Chris Williams but reluctantly take Cherilus, the last elite lineman left on the board.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Tennessee State). Head coach Jon Gruden probably wants another quarterback but cooler heads (Monte Kiffin’s) prevail and the Bucs will select Rodgers-Cromartie as the eventual replacement for Ronde Barber.
21. Washington Redskins. WR Malcolm Kelly (Oklahoma). Rumor has it that Redskins’ QB Jason Campbell has already thrown passes to Kelly during a workout in Norman, Okla. last week. No one else wants him this high, so he’ll be here for the ‘Skins to take.
22. Dallas Cowboys. RB Felix Jones (Arkansas). They might still select a cornerback despite the acquisition of Adam “Pacman” Jones, but the Cowboys are more likely to go with Arkansas’ Jones because they need a back to replace Julius Jones, who left for the Seattle Seahawks via free agency. Not to mention owner Jerry Jones is an Arkansas alum and was probably already paying Felix. Boosters are the heart of any good collegiate athletic program!
23. Tennessee Titans. CB Aqib Talib (Kansas). The Titans, thrilled to be rid of Pacman Jones, draft Talib, who many consider the best cover corner in the draft. Thing is, Talib got stoned a few times in college. He came clean with teams at the NFL Combine. The Titans appreciate the honesty.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers. WR Limas Sweed (Texas). Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger gets his wish — a big receiver. Sweed, who most scouts agree resembles a poor-man’s Roy Williams, won’t start immediately but will have a solid career if Roethlisberger stays healthy.
25. Seattle Seahawks. TE Fred Davis (USC). The Seahawks are done with Jerramy Stevens and select Davis to give quarterback Matt Hasselbeck a bigger, more consistant target. Davis had a great senior season at Southern Cal and could be a Pro Bowl tight end in three years or less.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars. DT Kentwan Balmer (North Carolina). The Jags lost some key players through free agency and are in need of some retooling on defense if they want to meet their goal of reaching — and losing — in the playoffs. Balmer’s a stud who can start now for a team stuck in second gear.
27. San Diego Chargers. RB Jonathan Stewart (Oregon). Stewart is a special player that has fallen to the Chargers as a gift. He’ll easily keep pace with the production the Bolts were receiving from Michael Turner, who bolted during free agency.
28. Dallas Cowboys. CB Brandon Flowers (Virginia Tech). The Cowboys know they can’t count on Pacman Jones so the select Flowers to cover themselves. Or they trade the pick to Miami so Parcells can take Michigan QB Chad Henne or USC QB John David Booty.
29. San Francisco 49ers. WR DeSean Jackson (California). The Niners have lacked a legitimate deep-play threat since oh, Jerry Rice. Jackson, though small, could fit the bill. The 49ers would probably be better off selecting Tennessee’s Jerod Mayo, but they’ve drafted a linebacker each of the last two seasons.
30. Green Bay Packers. S Kenny Phillips (Miami). The Packers, post Brett Favre, continue to improve their defense with the selection of Phillips, who’ll add muscle and consistency to their secondary. But from where will the muscle and consistancy come to their offense?
31. New York Giants. LB Jerod Mayo (Tennessee). The Giants lost some key pieces to their Super Bowl team, none bigger than LB Antonio Pierce. Mayo, a prototypical middle linebacker, will start and make an immediate impact.