16. St. Louis Rams – Jonathan Cooper, OG/North Carolina
The Rams would love for Chance Warmack to fall to them here, but as he continues to get (deserving) hype, he’ll probably be gone. That’s where Jonathan Cooper comes in, who should not be mistaken for second best here. Cooper will help eliminate interior lineman and provide much needed protection and security for Sam Bradford. It’s not a flashy pick, but teams that spend serious time building a good offensive line (Like NFC West mates San Francisco) are rewarded in the long run.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers – Johnathan Hankins, NT/Ohio State
The Steelers have so many needs that aren’t yet dire needs. They have an aging defense that is slowly withering away, but the unit still has a few years left in it, which affords the front office to pile up replacements in the meantime. Hankins falls to the Steelers by way of some interesting moves before their pick, but you won’t hear them complaining about drafting him. Casey Hampton is 35 and by bringing in Hankins Pittsburgh won’t have to worry about a nose tackle again for another 10 years.
18. Dallas Cowboys – Sheldon Richardson, DT/Missouri
When it comes to Richardson, scouts are absolutely high on him and he’s got a lot of evidence to back up all the hype. He’s got a lighting fast first step and can penetrate backfields like some of the top defensive tackles in the NFL. He’s fluctuating in value right now, but all signs are pointing to Richardson seeing his value take a jump as we get closer to the draft. The Cowboys need to beef up their front line and Richardson will be something running backs don’t want to deal with on Sunday’s.
19. New York Giants – Sam Montgomery, DE/LSU
The Giants need an edge rusher to electrify an aging defensive line. Montgomery can step in and learn from two of the best 4-3 rushers in the NFL in Osi Umenyiora (if he returns) and Justin Tuck, but as has been pointed out, both of these guys will be older than 30 by the time Montgomery’s name is called. Tuck might be playing his final year in New York and Umenyiora is always a wild card being that he’s an unrestricted free agent. Montgomery is a demon and the Giants would love to have him.
20. Chicago Bears – Alec Ogletree, LB/Georgia
The Bears could go any number of ways with their draft pick in April, but they might end up going defense. Everyone knows the offensive line needs work, but with Marc Trestman in town, some are hoping the problem fixes itself. On defense, Brian Urlacher is likely not going to return which means with Nick Roach steps up or the Bears draft one of the best interior linebackers in the country to replace him. I think Chicago goes with the latter.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – Alex Okafor, LB/Texas
Okafor is a guy who’s been in and out of the first round in mocks, but he’s looking like a pretty good bet to be a late-first round selection. The Bengals need some serious help at linebacker and Okafor is the guy they need. Rey Maualuga is just disgustingly awful to watch, Manny Lawson is a free agent and Keith Rivers was never truly replaced after last season. Okafor would be the first cornerstone in the new era of Bengals defense and he’s someone that will grow into the role of a starter.
In all of my previous mocks, I had the Rams double dipping on offensive tackles, which is something I encourage them to seriously consider. But the NFL is a league where massive tight ends are something you need and Zach Ertz is the best tight end in the draft. Sam Bradford has already established his receiving corps but he needs more weapons to play with. Ertz gives him his Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham that he can make a redzone target or middle of the field threat. The Rams are only getting better and Ertz helps get them there faster.
23. Minnesota Vikings – Keenan Allen, WR/California
The Vikings need a weapon for Christian Ponder to throw to and with Percy Harvin possibly gone this offseason, the need becomes even more great. Allen is tall, he’s fast and he’s exactly what Ponder needs to prove he is indeed the guy to lead this franchise. However, if Jonathan Banks is here, the Vikings might opt to take a receiver later in the draft so they can shore up a patchy and spotty secondary.
24. Indianapolis Colts – Johnthan Banks, CB/Mississippi St.
Banks is one of the best corners in this draft, and there’s a good chance he falls to the Colts if the Buccaneers don’t crack under pressure and reach to get him. The Colts need to shore up their secondary and Banks provides a way of eventually transitioning from the Vonte Davis era to the Banks era in Indy. But while Davis is still playing, the tandem of Davis-Banks will be one quarterbacks don’t look forward to playing.
25. Seattle Seahawks – John Jenkins, DT/Georgia
Jenkins has seen his value fluctuate over the past couple of weeks, but he’s a pretty solid late round pick. The Seahawks have one of the best defenses in the NFL, but even they could use some extra help up front. Any time you can add a guy that can power past interior offensive lineman and at the very least open up holes for pass rushing linebackers to fly through, you take the guy that can do that. Pete Carroll likes his defense mean, and Jenkins is going to fit that attitude perfectly.
26. Green Bay Packers – Barrett Jones, C/Alabama
Aaron Rodgers was abused last season and that’s one of the reasons the Packers struggled. Go back to the Seattle Screw game and you’ll see why the Packers didn’t pull away from the Seahawks. Usually Green Bay runs as many receivers as they can, but they had to pull them off the field at numerous times in 2012 so they could add extra blockers for Rodgers. Jones plugs up a huge hole in the middle and becomes Rodgers new right hand man on a powerful offensive unit.
27. Houston Texans - Kevin Minter, ILB/LSU
Houston’s defense started off really strong last season but it sputtered out pretty bad down the stretch in 2012. Brian Cushing is coming off a pretty serious ACL injury, Bradie James is a free agent and Houston doesn’t have anyone that builds a whole lot of confidence after that. One thing the Texans have going for them is youth, and talented youth at that. Minter would fit right into what the Texans are all about and he’d be an immediate impact player for Wade Phillips.
28. Denver Broncos – Desmond Trufant, CB/Washington
Trufant’s stock is steadily on the rise after an impressive Senior Bowl, and the stock is only going to get higher as we grind through the combine and get closer to the draft. He’s got the heritage of being an effective cornerback in the NFL and the Broncos are in need of some secondary help. Champ Bailey is still one of the best corners in the game and if Trufant can have his skills honed by Bailey, the Broncos are going to be set at corner for a while.
29. New England Patriots – Tavon Austin, WR/West Virginia
The Patriots need more receivers, and they need another one like Wes Welker. Some say Tom Brady needs a deep threat like Randy Moss the season they both broke records, but Brady has had consistent success with Welker, a guy who’s likely going to be out the door this offseason. Austin is a guy that can be exactly what Welker has been only younger and more athletic. New England can get fancy and use him in running back packages and he can return kicks too. If you’ve ever wondered what Percy Harvin would look like on the Patriots, that’s what Tavon Austin will be, and at a fraction of the price.
30. Atlanta Falcons – Tyler Eifert, TE/Notre Dame
We very well could have two tight ends be drafted in the first round this year, but both are deserving. Tony Gonzalez is probably retiring this offseason, which means Matt Ryan is losing one of his biggest targets. Eifert can step in an be a guy that helps soothe the pain of losing Gonzalez and even make Ryan forget about him. He’s the new breed of tight end and pretty soon every team will have a guy like Eifert, Ertz, Gronk and Graham.
31. San Francisco 49ers – Matt Elam, S/Florida
The 49ers were able to redshirt virtually all of their rookies this season, but contract situations and money issues might mean San Francisco will see some names leave in free agency this offseason. One spot the 49ers could use upgrading is at safety where Dashon Goldson is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and the 49ers might opt to let him walk rather than give him a massive extension. San Fran has already spent a lot of money on their defense and they could use some discounted youth to liven things up a bit.
32. Baltimore Ravens – Manti Te’o, LB/Notre Dame
I had this pick penciled in for Baltimore prior to the National Championship game but bumped Te’o up to the Bears at No. 20. After his girlfriend hoax killed his draft stock, Te’o is starting to rebound a bit and might still be taken in the first round. Yeah, he may be a gullible fool, but he turned din a Heisman-worthy season on more than just good feelings. Te’o does have skill and the Ravens need to get younger and still remain as good as they are. Maybe all Te’o needs is to be toughened up a bit by the hardcore, Super Bowl champion Ravens.