With the NFL draft roughly a week away, the rumor mill is in full swing. It is hard to take at face value many of the reports that originate in the final weeks leading up to the draft, generated by agents, scouts, general managers and professional and amateur writers alike. Instead, one should pay attention to who teams have in for visits - and who they cancel visits with, such as the Eagles deciding against bringing in Dee Milliner. The needs for teams remain more or less the same, so now it’s about deciding whether to draft by that criteria or by best player available - and then to figure out who that best player is. This, as evidenced by several franchises, is the most difficult part.
Here’s our latest mock draft that is entirely free of any expert opinion:
1. Kansas City Chiefs
Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
The Chiefs stick with Joeckel here, who’s been pushed by Eric Fisher as the top tackle - and maybe even overall prospect - in the draft.
Previous mock: Joeckel
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
It’s only been two years since the Jaguars took a quarterback too high in the draft, so look for their new regime to end that trend. The reality is that Smith, on talent alone, is not a top-five pick. He is the best quarterback in the draft though, so Jacksonville will roll the dice.
Previous mock: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
3. Oakland Raiders
Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
The Raiders finished 31st in the NFL in sacks last season, then subtracted Richard Seymour, Desmond Bryant and Tommy Kelly from the defensive line. Enter Floyd, whose stock has risen in recent months and would give Oakland an anchor to
Previous mock: Floyd
4. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Fisher’s stock has risen continuously since the end of the college football season. Many view him as an equal prospect to the consensus top tackle Joeckel, and some even rate him better. The Eagles will be happy to get either of the two, and thus land the one from Central Michigan.
Previous mock: Fisher
5. Detroit Lions
Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
The Lions have a lot of talent up front in Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, but not much of it at defensive end. Jordan had a great combine and should allow the Lions to generate pressure from the outside.
Previous mock: Milliner
6. Cleveland Browns
DeMarcus Milliner, CB, Alabama
Cleveland already has a very solid corner in Joe Haden. They take the opportunity to add another possible shutdown cornerback in Milliner.
Previous mock: Ezekiel Ansah, DE/OLB, BYU
7. Arizona Cardinals
Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Carson Palmer is the Cardinals’ new starting quarterback, so they will need an athletic offensive tackle like Johnson to chase down Palmer’s interceptions. And also to protect him.
Previous mock: Johnson
8. Buffalo Bills
Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
This is quite the jump for Austin, but versatility is the name of the game in today’s NFL, and Austin fits the mold. With potential but questions among the other receiver prospects, Austin’s ability to catch passes and return kicks and punts is valuable.
Previous mock: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
9. New York Jets
Ezekiel Ansah, DE/OLB, BYU
Ansah has earned comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul, as he was also a late arrival to the game. Few can match Ansah’s athleticism, and even i
Previous mock: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
10. Tennessee Titans
Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
The Titans’ stick with Warmack, as their situation at guard has not markedly improved in the offseason. Warmack, if he’s not the best overall player in the draft, is likely the safest pick.
Previous mock: Warmack
11. San Diego Chargers
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Lotulelei’s heart condition ended up not being an issue, but it might be too late for him to regain his top-five status. The Chargers would be getting great value here.
Previous mock: Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU
12. Miami Dolphins
Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
With the top three tackles off the board and the best guard, the Dolphins elect to go with Cooper, a versatile lineman who can play either guard or center.
Previous mock: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Unless the Bucs trade for Darrelle Revis, this pick pretty much has to be a cornerback. Tampa Bay had the worst pass defense in the NFL last season. Rhodes will provide an immediate upgrade.
Previous mock: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
14. Carolina Panthers
Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
The Panthers struggled against the run for the majority of the season. Richardson is a definite upgrade in the middle of their defensive line
Previous mock: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
15. New Orleans Saints
Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU
One of the reasons why the Saints’ defense was so bad last season was the lack of a pass rush. Mingo can provide that as an outside linebacker in Rob Ryan’s new 3-4 alignment.
Previous mock: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
16. St. Louis Rams
D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
The Rams have needs along the offensive line and at wide receiver. It may be early for Fluker here, but teams obviously covet depth on the offensive line, so the Rams may be forced to make a needs-based pick.
Previous mock: Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
17. Pittsburgh Steelers
Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
After parting ways with James Harrison, the Steelers need a pass-rushing linebacker. Jones is a top-five talent with health questions whose stock is down after a poor pro day. Sounds like a Steelers pick.
Previous mock: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
18. Dallas Cowboys
Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Vaccaro is still the pick for the Cowboys, who had a need at safety even before cutting Gerald Sensabaugh.
Previous mock: Vaccaro
19. New York Giants
Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Werner does not have as much upside as some of the other rushers taken earlier in the draft, but the Giants snap up an undervalued player here to help replace Justin Tuck.
Previous mock: Damontre Moore, DE/OLB, Texas A&M
20. Chicago Bears
Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia
Offensive line remains the Bears’ biggest need, but they’ll also have to replace Brian Urlacher, at least in part. Ogletree has good range and can do a good deal to help fill the void.
Previous mock: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
21. Cincinnati Bengals
Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
The Bengals need some help in their secondary. With Vaccaro off the board, they go with a cornerback in Trufant, who has moved into the first round after a strong Senior Bowl and
Previous mock: Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins)
Keenan Allen, WR, California
With their first pick, the Rams got an offensive lineman. Now, they give Sam Bradford someone to throw to in Allen, whose stock is down a bit after running a slow 40-yard dash but showed big-play potential at Cal.
Previous mock: Allen
23. Minnesota Vikings
Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
The Vikings need help in the middle of their defensive line, with Kevin Williams aging. They get it in Sylvester Williams, who is great value at this point.
Previous mock: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
24. Indianapolis Colts
Damontre Moore, DE/OLB, Texas A&M
Moore was considered a top-10 at one point. He then performed poorly at the combine and has had some off-the-field issues that have hurt his draft position. The Colts take a chance on him here, hoping to improve their pass rush.
Previous mock: Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
25. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle Seahawks)
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
With the pick they acquired for Percy Harvin, the Vikings take Patterson, a big receiver from Tennessee who gives Christian Ponder a deep threat - provided he can get it there.
Previous mock: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
26. Green Bay Packers
Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Jermichael Finley has forgotten how to catch a football the past few seasons, so the Packers need to replace him. The tight end class is strong, with Eifert considered by most the top player at the position.
Previous mock: Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State
27. Houston Texans
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
Andre Johnson rebounded in 2012 but isn’t getting any younger, and the Texans lack secondary receiving options. Hopkins is sure-handed and can take pressure off Johnson immediately.
Previous mock: Hopkins
28. Denver Broncos
Cornelius Carradine, DE, Florida State
The Broncos lost Elvis Dumervil in a contract snafu. They could look to address their underwhelming secondary (re: Joe Flacco), but with plenty of good defensive linemen left on the board, they go with Carradine.
Previous mock: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
29. New England Patriots
Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise State
The Patriots seem to be in a perpetual search for secondary help. Though they re-signed Aqib Talib and brought in Adrian Wilson, they need to find longer-term help, which leads them to Taylor.
Previous mock: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
30. Atlanta Falcons
Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
Atlanta could go either with defensive line help or address their secondary. Jones is yet another pass-rushing threat who is also pick enough to slide inside.
Previous mock: Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, Connecticut
31. San Francisco 49ers
Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
It’s hard to improve the 49ers’ defense, but they could do worse than to draft Williams to plug the middle.
Previous mock: Matt Elam, S, Florida
32. Baltimore Ravens
Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International
Ed Reed is now in Houston, just one of the several losses endured by the Ravens’ defense this offseason. They could find another long-term starter in the hard-hitting Cyprien.
Previous mock: Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia