Published January 13, 2015
The first week of free agency is like tea leaves for the NFL Draft.
Now you just have to read them.
Since most NFL personnel people fancy themselves as 007-type covert agents handling delicate state secrets, the key is never to listen to your favorite NFL team. Instead, watch what it does and its thought process as the draft approaches will start to come into focus.
The first flurry of signings is just about over and most of the big ticket items have been lugged out of the showroom. So, with the first week of free agency in the rearview, needs have certainly changed around the league and priorities have been skewed.
Here are the results as The Sports Network rolls out its latest mock draft:
1. Kansas City Chiefs - Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M - With Alex Smith and his new caddy, Chase Daniel, officially on board for Andy Reid the only real options here are trading down with a team enamored by West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith or selecting Joeckel, the Aggies' left tackle who projects as a Matt Kalil-like stalwart from day one.
Previous Pick: Joeckel
2. Jacksonville Jaguars - Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State - Some think Gus Bradley and Co. are ready to give up on Blaine Gabbert, the No. 10 overall pick in 2011, and select Smith. Others think high-rising Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is an option. To me it's always been about the pass rush with the Jags and Werner, although he has been falling on most draft boards after a poor 40 time, remains the likeliest pick, edging out fellow edge rushers like the rising Dion Jordan.
Previous Pick: Werner, DE, Florida State
3. Oakland Raiders - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia - Neither Carson Palmer or Terrelle Pryor are the answers in the Bay Area and the Raiders always love making the big splash so this is where Smith comes off the board.
Previous Pick: Floyd
4. Philadelphia Eagles - Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon - The Eagles have been a bargain-conscious, high-volume buyer on the free agent market, especially on defense where they need lots of help. Since they are moving to a 3-4 under new head coach Chip Kelly and neither Trent Cole or Brandon Graham look well- suited to take their hands off the ground, Philadelphia needs players on the edge. The Eagles brought in Connor Barwin from Houston to handle one side and Jordan, an old Kelly acolyte from Nike University, will be brought in to handle the other.
Previous Pick: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
5. Detroit Lions - Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan - With Cliff Avril now in the Pacific Northwest with the ascending Seahawks, Detroit could be in the market for his replacement but most of the pass rushers have been pointing straight down in recent weeks and Fisher is one of the elite talents in this draft. Since veteran Jeff Backus is retiring and Riley Reiff is a right tackle, Fisher fits well in the Motor City.
Previous Pick: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
6. Cleveland Browns - Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama - New Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton ran the 3-4 in Arizona, and Cleveland has been active in free agency fortifying the front seven, inking edge pass rusher Paul Kruger from Baltimore as well as ex-Raiders defensive tackle Desmond Bryant and former Cardinal linebacker Quentin Groves. Milliner is the kind of player who could team with Joe Haden to give Horton two top-tier corners and the ability to get exotic with his defensive play-calling.
Previous Pick: Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU
7. Arizona Cardinals - Matt Barkley, QB, USC - Kevin Kolb is gone and it's hard to believe new coach Bruce Arians will go into the season with free agent signee Drew Stanton as his starting quarterback. Arians likes Stanton from their time in Indy together but also remember the new Cards coach did wonders with rookie Andrew Luck last year. While there are no signal-callers with that kind of upside this time around, Barkley is the most NFL-ready in this year's group. His arm strength has to be a concern, however.
Previous Pick: Smith
8. Buffalo Bills - Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse - With Ryan Fitzpatrick gone and Tarvaris Jackson as the only in-house option at quarterback, panic sets in here and new coach Doug Marrone reaches for his old college quarterback, Ryan Nassib. The former Syracuse star has the big arm and may have a bright future in a few years but shouldn't be in the conversation this early.
Previous Pick: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
9. New York Jets - Jarvis Jones, DE/OLB, Georgia - Jones played in a 4-3 at Georgia, but 3-4 teams like him also. The Jets are desperate for talent and with Calvin Pace and Bart Scott jettisoned, Rex Ryan get lucky here when Jones drops into his lap.
Previous Pick: Jones
10. Tennessee Titans - Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida - Floyd has been racing up most draft boards thanks to his athleticism but he'll fall a bit in the final weeks since his production at Florida didn't always match his skill level. That's a good thing for Tennessee, which needs help on the interior.
Previous Pick: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
11. San Diego Chargers - Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama - The Chargers' offensive line is in shambles and they could go left tackle Lane Johnson or Warmack, perhaps the best pure football player in this year's draft. Warmack, is far quicker than his body indicates and excels at getting to the second level and walling off linebackers, just ask Manti Te'o. He is a perfect choice for San Diego, which lost guard Louis Vasquez to AFC-West rival Denver during free agency.
Previous Pick: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
12. Miami Dolphins - Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma - Miami is a perfect example of how free agency can change things. The Dolphins were penciled in at wide receiver by just about everyone but they signed Mike Wallace to a huge money deal and also brought in Brandon Gibson to help outside the numbers. Meanwhile, the Dolphins lost left tackle Jake Long to St. Louis. Johnson, a former high school quarterback, understands the passing game and mirrors well. He will need to continue to add strength, however, but has a nice ceiling as a player.
Previous Pick: Keenan Allen, WR, California
13. Tampa Bay Bucs - Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State - The Bucs have been the lead horse in the Darrelle Revis trade race so cornerback is obviously a priority. If they pull off the Revis trade, which is looking less and less likely by the day, this pick likely changes. For now, focus on Rhodes, who has settled in as the second best corner in the 2013 draft.
Previous Pick: Milliner
14. Carolina Panthers - Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah - The Panthers need to sure up their run defense and heart issues at the combine will likely send Lotulelei, a likely top five pick before Indianapolis, sprawling out of the top 10. During his medical evaluation at the combine it was found that Lotulelei's left ventricle was pumping at below normal levels. He has been cleared for a full workout at Utah's pro day on March 20 and, though, and this seems like a sensible landing spot. Star is a strong, physical player who fits in playing multiple techniques and should develop into a solid player early in his career.
Previous Pick: Lotulelei
15. New Orleans Saints - Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU - The Saints are another team switching to a 3-4 and need the long, rangy edge pass rusher. That describes Ansah, a player with top of the draft athleticism, to a tee.
Previous Pick: Ansah
16. St. Louis Rams - Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee - The Rams shored up left tackle with the signing of Long but lost Danny Amendola, making receiver even more of a need pick. Cal's Keenan Allen is the most NFL-ready pass catcher but Patterson has the biggest upside among this year's group of receivers, a raw, rangy big- play threat who needs to focus more and stop rounding off his routes.
Previous Pick: Johnson
17. Pittsburgh Steelers - Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri - The Steelers need to get younger in the front seven and Richardson is a versatile athlete who could create havoc as an inside pass rusher or occupy blockers as an end in the 3-4 alignment.
Previous Pick: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
18. Dallas Cowboys - Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina - The 'Boys are hamstrung by salary cap woes so getting help here is paramount. Cooper is one of the most athletic guards to come along in years and will be an immediate upgrade on Dallas' porous offensive line.
Previous Pick: Richardson
19. New York Giants - Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas - The signing of former Oakland tight end Brandon Myers probably takes a Tyler Eifert or Zach Ertz off the table but the loss of Kenny Phillips to NFC-East rival Philadelphia opens up safety and Vaccaro is the best on the board, a player who has the ideal combination of size and athleticism to roam from sideline to sideline in coverage.
Previous Pick: Jordan
20. Chicago Bears - D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama - The Bears addressed a pair of holes by signing left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett but more needs to be done on the offensive line in order to protect Jay Cutler. It may be a bit of a reach here for Fluker, but he's the best tackle left on the board and could push the under whelming J'Marcus Webb for the right tackle slot.
Previous Pick - Fluker
21. Cincinnati Bengals - Matt Elam, S, Florida - The re- signing of defensive end Michael Johnson and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga helps solidify the front seven for Cincinnati, making safety the biggest position of need. Elam is far safer than Jonathan Cyprien of Florida International, the flavor of the week.
Previous Pick: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins) - Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia - The Rams continue carpet-bombing the receiver spot taking Austin, a natural slot receiver and the heir apparent to Amendola. If you add Patterson, Austin to tight end Jared Cook, who was signed in free agency, Sam Bradford would finally have the weapons he needs.
Previous Pick: Austin
23. Minnesota Vikings - Johnathan Banks, CB, Mississippi State - The Greg Jennings signing makes receiver less of an issue. The release of Antoine Winfield, however, makes cornerback a priority and Banks projects as a starter early is his career. He could team with Chris Cook and Josh Robinson in Minnesota to give the Vikings three solid young corners, something you need in a division where Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Cutler play quarterback.
Previous Pick: Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
24. Indianapolis Colts - Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU - Chuck Pagano needs to continue to build up his 3-4 defense in Indy and missed out on Kruger in free agency so taking a shot here on a player like Mingo, who once had a top 10 grade, would be a prudent decision.
Previous Pick: Banks
25. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle) - Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame - This is Minnesota's pick acquired in the Percy Harvin deal. The Vikings let their middle linebacker in 2012, the pedestrian Jasper Brinkley, walk to Arizona so they need a mike. Minny general manager Rick Spielman has already hit big on Notre Dame prospects in back-to-back years (tight end Kyle Rudolph and safety Harrison Smith) so, while Te'o's personal problems are an issue, Spielman should make the leap. Te'o is a prototypical 4-3 mike at least when Warmack isn't on the opposition.
Previous Pick: None, just acquired selection
26. Green Bay Packers - Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford - It's pretty clear Mike McCarthy would like to throw the ball 60 times a game and we all know how good Rodgers is, so forget about solving the running back woes by taking Alabama's Eddie Lacy, a true bell-cow back. The Pack wanted to keep backup tight end Tom Crabtree on the cheap but couldn't do so. Meanwhile, Jermichael Finley will get another chance to develop some consistency and having Ertz around to push him would be ideal.
Previous Pick: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
27. Houston Texans - Keenan Allen, WR, California - Even before they released veteran Kevin Walter the Texans badly needed a complement to Andre Johnson. Allen is the best pure receiver on the board, a player with the size and ball skills to flourish in South Texas.
Previous Pick: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
28. Denver Broncos - Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame - Giving Peyton Manning a slot receiver like Wes Welker when he already has Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker on the outside is kind of scary. Add Eifert to that mix and the Broncos might sport the first offense to be ruled illegal because it's going to be unfair. Eifert is a difference maker at tight end, a player who already high points the football better than just about anyone on the pro level.
Previous Pick: Eifert
29. New England Patriots - Robert Woods, WR, USC - Although the Pats brought in the speedy Donald James as a replacement for Brandon Lloyd, they still need help outside the numbers and Woods projects as the type of route-runner to really excel in the intermediate zones for Tom Brady.
Previous Pick: Vaccaro
30. Atlanta Falcons - Datone Jones, DE, UCLA - The Falcons convinced Tony Gonzalez to play one more season and signed running back Steven Jackson, clearing up the offensive side of the ball. They need a replacement for veteran defensive end John Abraham, however, and Jones is a nice prospect with long arms, a lively body and a good first step.
Previous Pick: Jones
31. San Francisco 49ers - Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington - Craig Dahl is probably not the ideal replacement for Dashon Goldson but it's an adequate one, keeping cornerback as the Niners primary need. Trufant is a solid gamble this late.
Previous Pick: Trufant
32. Baltimore Ravens - Kevin Minter, MLB, LSU - With Ray Lewis retiring and Dannell Ellerbe exiting to Miami, Baltimore badly needs an inside linebacker and Minter is the type of solid tackler who can hit the ground running in the NFL.
Previous Pick: Te'o
33. Jacksonville Jaguars - Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
34. San Francisco 49ers (from Kansas City) - Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
35. Philadelphia Eagles - EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State
36. Detroit Lions - DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
37. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland) - Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
38. Arizona Cardinals - Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas Pine-Bluff
39. New York Jets - Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
40. Tennessee Titans - Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky
41. Buffalo Bills - Aaron Dobson, WR, Marshall
42. Miami Dolphins - Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
43. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
44. Carolina Panthers - Tank Carradine, DE, Florida State
45. San Diego Chargers - Justin Pugh, OG, Syracuse
46. St. Louis Rams - Eric Reid, S, LSU
47. Dallas Cowboys - Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
48. Pittsburgh Steelers - John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
49. New York Giants - Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State
50. Chicago Bears - Phillip Thomas, S, Fresno State
51. Washington Redskins - Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech
52. Minnesota Vikings - Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
53. Cincinnati Bengals - Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers
54. Miami Dolphins (from Indianapolis) - Darius Slay, CB, Mississippi State
55. Green Bay Packers - Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
56. Seattle Seahawks - Chase Thomas, LB Stanford
57. Houston Texans - Terrence Williams, WR, Baylor
58. Denver Broncos - Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
59. New England Patriots - Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
60. Atlanta Falcons - Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
61. San Francisco 49ers - Giovanni Bernard, RB, North Carolina
62. Baltimore Ravens - Nico Johnson, ILB, Alabama
Notes: -Cleveland exercised its second round pick in last year's supplemental draft.
-New Orleans forfeited its second round pick due to the Bountygate scandal.