We are only 15 days away from the NFL Draft, and as the resident draft guru, I can tell you that I'm about as excited as the real Mel Kiper Jr. himself. This is one of the most uncertain drafts in recent memory. There seems to be a lot of indecision at the top of the draft, which may lead to a flurry of trades on draft day. Teams who covet certain players may feel more inclined to trade up, for fear that the teams ahead of them will take their prize.
Most people think that the Raiders are all but ready to select LSU QB JaMarcus Russell with the top overall pick. Though Russell will be an upgrade at the QB position, I highly doubt that he can help them win in the short term. Oakland has a playoff caliber defense, and are an efficient QB away from making a strong playoff push. I don't think they can afford to wait a few years for Russell to develop.
Before Peyton Manning won it last season, you have to go all the way back to Troy Aikman in 1989, as being the last QB selected #1 overall to lead his team to a Super Bowl victory. There have been 9 QB's taken 1st overall since then. Drew Bledsoe joins Manning as the only other to have even played in a Super Bowl. More on the Raiders projected pick below, but first let me tell you which two things are the only guarantees on draft day:
(a) The Bucs will take Calvin Johnson at #4 if he's available
(b) The Cardinals will take OT Joe Thomas at #5 if he is still available
With that being said, the keys to this year's draft are held by Oakland and Detroit. This post includes my projections for picks 1-16 of the 1st Round. Next week I'll have an updated, full 1st Round, and then I'll post a final mock covering rounds 1 and 2 on the eve of the draft. Hopefully the Raiders will have signed their pick by then, like Mario Williams and Houston last year.
1. OAKLAND QB JaMarcus Russell, LSU
The Raiders are still debating whether they want Russell or stud WR Calvin Johnson. Unless they acquire a veteran QB, the pick is Russell.
2. DETROIT OT Joe Thomas, Wisconsin
The Lions need to protect the passer. They should get plenty of calls on draft day from teams wanting to move up.
3. CLEVELAND RB Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma
The Browns need a player who can help them win now. RB's tend to make the biggest impact as rookies.
4. TAMPA BAY WR Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech
The Bucs may not be able to sit at #4 and wait for Johnson. They'll be holding their breath when the commissioner reads off Oakland's pick.
5. ARIZONA DT Amobi Okoye, Louisville
The Cards will also be crossing their fingers hoping that Thomas is still on the board, if not they'll draft the 19 year old phenom.
6. WASHINGTON DE Gaines Adams, Clemson
The Redskins need to improve their pass rush, but they may still trade this pick to Chicago for LB Lance Briggs.
7. MINNESOTA QB Brady Quinn, Notre Dame
The Vikings took a QB in the 2nd round last year, but cannot pass on a player like Quinn after cutting Brad Johnson in the off-season.
8. ATLANTA FS LaRon Landry, LSU
The Falcons will consider OT Levi Brown or DE Jamaal Anderson too, but they'll go with the player with the best value and pick Landry.
9. MIAMI OT Levi Brown, Penn State
The Dolphins can go in any direction with this pick. They'll start bye putting together a stable offensive line.
10. HOUSTON OT Joe Staley, Central Michigan
The Texans need a LT, but don't have a 2nd round pick, which means that they may have to reach for Staley or trade down.
11. SAN FRANCISCO DT Alan Branch, Michigan
The 49ers have holes at WR and along the defensive front, but they can find a WR in the 2nd round.
12. BUFFALO LB Patrick Willis, Ole Miss
The Bills need help at MLB, CB, and RB. Willis can start immediately and is my early pick for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
13. ST. LOUIS DE Jamaal Anderson, Arkansas
The Rams took CB Tye Hill last year, and must continue to build the defense. They will take the best available defensive lineman.
14. CAROLINA TE Greg Olsen, Miami (Fl)
The Panthers took RB DeAngelo Williams last year, and will add another offensive weapon, a TE that can stretch the field.
15. PITTSBURGH LB Lawrence Timmons, Florida State
The Steelers are transitioning from the 3-4 defense to a Tampa 2 scheme. Timmons has the ability play outside in either scheme.
16. GREEN BAY RB Marshawn Lynch, California
The Packers need a RB, plain and simple. They also need a big WR and a playmaker at TE, but they can address those in later rounds.