I'm not a huge mock draft guy, especially before last-minute trades have been made and boards are set. There are enough people cobbling together their best guesses, and it's such an inexact science. Each guess is predicated on so many assumptions, and once one player goes in an unexpected spot, or a trade goes down, the entire mock "board" comes tumbling down.
So I thought I'd take a different approach, put my own spin on it, and look at a handful of top prospects and try to guess their floors. In other words, look at things from the other end of the spectrum and try to determine how late they could possibly go, while pointing out potential landing spots along the way. Kind of a backwards mock. I'll go in a general order of how I expect them to come off the board, but not hard and firm.
There are several areas where successive teams are looking intently at the same position (Washington, Kansas City and Seattle all checking out left tackles at picks 4-6, for instance; San Francisco and Pittsburgh considering offensive linemen at 17 and 18; Cincinnati and New England looking at wide receivers at 21 and 22). So the next team up will obviously be greatly impacted by which of the available players at that position goes one pick earlier.
So with that in mind, here's a sketch of where the top prospects could go in the draft, as well as some other notable players, based on weeks of conversations with coaches, team executives and agents:
1. Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma
Won't get past: St. Louis at No. 1.
Who wants him? All teams in need of a quarterback. I have a tremendously difficult time seeing the Rams not taking him first overall, but Cleveland is in position to move up. However, the possibility of the Rams trading this pick is remote. Too many teams see Bradford as a franchise quarterback for him not to go here, especially with such a drop-off among quarterbacks after him in this draft.
2. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska
Won't get past: Tampa Bay at No. 3.
Who wants him? I expect the Lions to take him second overall, but it's not a total lock, as they remain eager to trade down. They could take Russell Okung, with left tackle a big need. Still, it would remain quite surprising if Suh doesn't go second overall. He's a special player, tops on many draft boards, and as close to a sure thing as there is. If the Lions pass, Tampa Bay would be overjoyed, trying to trade down with vigor, with both Suh and Gerald McCoy on the board at No. 3. Unlikely, but not impossible. In that scenario, perhaps Suh slips to the Bucs and they face a tough decision.
3. Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma
Won't get past: Seattle at No. 6
Who wants him? Trust me, if McCoy's sitting there at No. 3 and Suh is already gone, the Bucs will be very, very happy. They'll still be exploring options of trading down; the Lions and Chiefs (at No. 5) would love to do the same (all of this is not likely to occur). Ultimately, I expect McCoy to be there for the Bucs. If somehow Suh was available and Tampa took him, the Chiefs would look closely at McCoy, but still I'm not sure they would go that route with so many other needs and having taken so many defensive linemen high in recent years. Seattle, however, couldn't let him pass, especially with the Seahawks among the teams possibly acquiring a veteran left tackle like Jammal Brown before the draft.
4. Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State
Won't get past: Kansas City at No. 5
Who wants him? The Chiefs, with the fifth pick, love him. The Redskins, at No. 4, are high on him as well, with a team source indicating he is the highest-rated left tackle on their board. Still, the Redskins are also very enamored with left tackle Trent Williams. If I were doing a mock, I'd give Okung to the 'Skins.
5. Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma
Won't get past: Buffalo at No. 9
Who wants him? As offensive line coaches have come around on him, his stock has risen. Some worried about his ability to be coached, but individual visits have eased some of those concerns. I can't see him slipping past Washington, Kansas City or Seattle, but if he somehow does, the Bills snatch him. If Washington takes Okung, I would project the Chiefs to take Williams, which would start to complicate Seattle's decision.
6. Eric Berry, S, Tennessee
Won't get past: Cleveland at No. 7
Who wants him? While Berry could end up going to Seattle at No. 6, I'd give him to the Browns at No. 7 (if he's not there, my best guess for the Browns would be Joe Haden, assuming they cannot trade down). Many teams have him among the three best overall talents in the entire draft, but the rub is that he's a safety, and you won't find them going this high all that often. I believe the Browns take their best available player on their board here and look for a quarterback early in the second round (more on that later).
7. Derrick Morgan, DE, Georgia Tech
Won't get past: Jacksonville at No. 10
Who wants him? Morgan is probably the safest bet among pass rushers in the draft and someone with top-10 talent. The run on linemen is likely to continue. I have heard some rumblings that Jacksonville would take Jimmy Clausen, but I'm thinking that's a smokescreen. Could come down to Morgan and Jason Pierre-Paul, and I would expect Jacksonville to go for the more polished prospect.
8. Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee
Won't get past: Miami at No. 12
Who wants him? This seems like the perfect pick for Miami and many execs see him going there. The Dolphins could trade down, however, which would scuttle things. And it's possible he goes higher as well.
9. Bryan Bulaga, OT, Iowa
Won't get past: San Francisco at No. 13
Who wants him? The Bills will be evaluating him closely at No. 9 if he's there, and I'm assuming he will be with Trent Williams going higher. Bulaga is also the kind of street fighter Scott Pioli would covet in Kansas City, so he's a possibility for the Chiefs at No. 5. Other linemen would get strong consideration from the Bills, but Bulaga likely gets the nod.
10. C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson
Won't get past: Seattle at No. 14
Who wants him? Seattle might decide, with so much offensive line depth, to take Spiller with the sixth pick and come back and get a lineman at 14. Regardless, if he's there at 14, he's going to get heavy consideration. The Giants love Spiller and don't rule out a trade up from 15 to get him. Miami and Jacksonville are also big fans, but other more pressing needs likely prevail in the end. If Bulaga is there at 14, and the Seahawks don't take a left tackle with their first pick, Spiller might get past this spot, but I don't see it.
11. Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama
Won't get past:New York Giants at No. 15
Who wants him? I've heard buzz that the Raiders covet McClain at No. 8. Anything is possible with Oakland. He's big on Miami's radar, too. But the Giants are doing backflips if he's available (I could see New York coming back in the second round with another linebacker, Sean Lee). No way he gets by the Giants here.
12. Jared Odrick, DT, Penn State
Won't get past: Houston at No. 20
Who wants him? Atlanta is looking at several offensive linemen at No. 19. Mike Iupati and/or Maurkice Pouncey are very likely to be coming off the board in the 17-19 range if they aren't already gone, with Pittsburgh (No. 18) also figuring on picking between those players. But if Odrick doesn't go to a DT-needy team like Seattle or Miami, then the Falcons or Steelers would be on him. And if he somehow slips past them, and as much as Houston needs a corner, he would have to garner extreme consideration with the Texans.
13/14. Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State / Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma
Won't get past: Cincinnati at No. 21 and New England at No. 22
Who wants him? Bryant and Gresham are linked in my eyes given the Bengals and Patriots picking in succession. If I was doing a traditional mock, I'd give Bryant to the Broncos at 11. The Titans would have to consider him at 16 (I am told the Steelers aren't in the market for a receiver at 18). Both of these players would fill a massive void for the Bengals. The other would be a great value pick for the Patriots, who would get a best-of-breed player at a need position, and still have three second-round picks to play around with.
15. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, South Florida
Won't get past: Green Bay at No. 23
Who wants him? While Pierre-Paul is so raw it makes it difficult to get a handle on him, the natural ability is breathtaking. If he went in the top 10, I would not be shocked (the buzz for him in the upper part of the draft is growing), but his limited football experience could also lead to a fall. He could be a tremendous value find for the Packers as a hybrid 3-4 OLB, however. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers would find a way to get him on the field in some packages despite his rough edges.
16. Joe Haden, CB, Florida
Won't get past: Philadelphia at No. 24
Who wants him? Opinions vary on Haden, who could be the best corner in this draft. I don't think it's a lock that he goes before Kyle Wilson, though. If I'm mocking, I'd give Haden to the Browns at No. 7 or Titans at 16, and Wilson to Houston at 20, but this is an odd draft. With so many linemen, and the top two safeties considered superior to the corners, the CBs could get squeezed some. The Eagles would pounce on Haden at 24 if he's still there. Unless, of course, somehow Earl Thomas is still available, too.
17. Earl Thomas, S, Texas
Won't get past: Baltimore at No. 25
Who wants him? If Thomas fell to the Ravens, it would be impossible for them to pass on him, despite other needs. I know several teams have Thomas ranked ahead of Berry. If Seattle were to take Berry, I don't rule out Thomas going as high as No. 7 to Cleveland. If anything, Thomas will go higher than many have projected, but if he somehow does get lost in the shuffle, Baltimore would lick its chops by finding Ed Reed's eventual replacement.
18. Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers
Won't get past: Dallas at No. 27
Who wants him? The 49ers, at 17, like Davis, and depending on how the draft goes, and how deep the run on offensive linemen is, he could go much higher. But with Arizona (No. 26) and Dallas looking hard at tackles at the back end of the first round, the drop stops here. He's graded out significantly higher than Bruce Campbell, and I can't imagine Davis falling deeper than this.
19. Mike Iupati, G, Idaho
Won't get past: Dallas at No. 27
Who wants him? I see Iupati going in that 17-18 range, but his ability to maul people at guard or tackle means he doesn't slip past that Dallas/Arizona vortex. In actuality, I see Massachusetts OT Vladimir Ducasse in more of this role at the end of the first round, while Iupati comes off the board in the mid-first round.
Mock draft central
20. Terrence Cody, DT, Alabama
Won't get past:New York Jets at No. 29
Who wants him? I expect the Chargers to have their pick of Cody or UCLA's Brian Price at 28, with Cody the likely choice. But if he's still there at 29 for the Jets, Cody makes a strong option to take over for Kris Jenkins at some point. With Jenkins coming off surgery and Howard Green gone, Rex Ryan needs reserves. While the Jets have used trades and free agency to fill other voids, Cody could be a heck of a force in their scheme, especially with Ryan having the ability to keep him in playing shape.
21. Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame
Won't get past: Minnesota at No. 30
Who wants him? You could make a case for at least three teams taking Clausen in the first round, and I'd give him to San Francisco at 17 in a mock. But you could also see a scenario where the Vikings could pick between him or Tim Tebow at 30. Brett Favre won't play forever. Clausen has plenty of top-10 attributes, but some questions as well. I don't see him falling all the way out of the first round.
22. Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State
Won't get past: New Orleans at No. 32
Who wants him? The Saints will be looking at linebackers like Missouri's Sean Weatherspoon and TCU's Daryl Washington, but corner is also very much on their radar. However, if Wilson was sitting there, he's the pick. Still, I don't expect Wilson to get past the Texans at 20.
23. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas
Won't get past: Cleveland at No. 38 in the second round
Who wants him? One of the primary reasons I don't expect the Browns to go for a quarterback in the first round is because of the value they will find there if they are patient in the second round. A team could trade up into the late first round for McCoy, but I believe the Browns will get their man. He would be a great fit in their West Coast scheme and could play behind Jake Delhomme for a year or so.
24. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
Won't get past: New England at Nos. 44 or 47 in the second round
Who wants him? Since about the middle of the season I have been talking about Tebow ending up in New England. If he isn't taken in the first round, then the Patriots have three cracks at the project in the second round. Bill Belichick would find a way to get him on the field in a slash-type role in some packages as Tebow develops. With New England owning picks 44 and 47, no way in my mind Tebow slips out of the top 50. If he doesn't end up with the Patriots, Broncos or Vikings, I'd be very surprised. As I mentioned earlier, Minnesota at 30 is a distinct possibility. The Patriots and Broncos could make a move up in the second round to get him as well.
Other draft nuggets
» I can't see the combined QBs, RBs and WRs taken in the first round extending past six -- maybe seven. But my estimate is five (two QBs, one RB and two WRs). With so many good linemen available, look for the run on them to force a lot of good skill players back to the second round, where teams like New England will look like geniuses again with all of those picks.
» Albert Haynesworth and Jammal Brown remain very good possibilities to be dealt before or during the draft. The Redskins are among the teams most desperate to add selections -- they have the fewest, and none between picks 4 and 103. Haynesworth is not going to be a part of their long-term future, and they know it.
» With the Rams sitting pretty at the top of six rounds, I'd be stunned if they didn't make at least one trade prior to the start of the second round Friday because of all the additional time now between Rounds 1 and 2.
» If the Raiders pass on Maryland OT Bruce Campbell at No. 8, I can see him falling out of the first-round entirely. He hasn't wowed the offensive line coaches who grade out the tape despite his off-the-charts combine workout. Perhaps the run on linemen carries him to a team like Dallas or Arizona, but if I'm either team, I'd prefer trading for a proven commodity like Jammal Brown or restricted free agent Jared Gaither.
» Three players who could end up going significantly higher than many projections are Georgie Tech WR Demaryius Thomas, Cal DE Tyson Alualu and LSU DT Al Woods. Thomas has a strong chance to be the first receiver taken, and I could see a scenario where both he and Dez Bryant are off the board by 11, which creates a better likelihood another wideout sneaks in toward the end of the first round. Alualu could end going in the 20s given his motor, production, versatility and character, particularly if Odrick goes in the top 19. Woods is an under-the-radar tackle who is drawing attention from teams like New Orleans and Minnesota.
» One of the key decisions in this draft will come from the Bills at No. 9. It's going to cost a lot of money to take a quarterback there -- Tens of millions more than if you get one around 30-35. You risk losing Clausen if you pass on him at first crack, but trading back up into the late first round and getting him there makes a lot of sense, too, especially with such a gamble significantly mitigated by the contract in that slot. It's something they'd have to seriously think about.