ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has made a cottage industry and lucrative year-round job of trying to figure out the NFL Draft and what teams might do in the first round. He goes bleary-eyed watching game film, gets cauliflower ear listening to scouts and experts, plies carefully cultivated team sources for exclusive inside information … and then guesses and is usually wrong, just like everyone else.
Anybody who enters the realm of public humiliation called the “mock draft” — and this is my 24th annual in the Miami Herald — is using a Ouija board, a divining rod and playing rock-paper-scissors to make his glorified guesses for each team.
We’re not the only ones involved in the crap shoot, of course.
The teams are guessing, too.
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Sometimes a team guesses just right and hits a bull’s-eye who will enhance that team and thrill its fans for many years, and then sometimes it trades all the way up to the third overall pick and drafts Dion Jordan.
It’s probably just as well there are not cameras in your team’s draft war room during the first round Thursday night, because they might find your men in charge sweating profusely and muttering, “Eenie, meenie, miney, moe … .”
A trade or one team’s surprise pick can have a trickle-down effect that alters a dozen ensuing selections and sets mock drafts aflame.
Have I issued a sufficient disclaimer for what’s ahead?
Selections below do not factor possible draft-day trades, because that would take the guesswork to a head-exploding level. As always, exclusive Super Bonus Draft Facts are interspersed in italics.
We take our picks seriously but like to have fun, too, because this whole endeavor is a phenomenon fittingly named: Little in sports deserves to be mocked more than the idea of a mock draft.
OK, now. Ready, set … guess!
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State: No guesswork here, at least. The league’s 80th draft would begin with a stunner if Bucs do anything but address their greatest need with the meat market’s most NFL-ready quarterback. The polarizing Winston might have crab legs, but nobody doubts his arm.
2. Tennessee Titans — Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: A bit of intrigue here, with Philip Rivers rumors and trade-down speculation. But Titans don’t believe Zach Mettenberger is their franchise QB, so I believe they’ll look to Mariota.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars — Leonard Williams, DE/DT, Southern Cal: The guesswork starts here. Makes sense for Jags to fill their biggest need with draft’s top-rated defensive player, but Gator Dante Fowler or even Amari Cooper may tempt.
4. Oakland Raiders — Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: A premier, fleet target for promising second-year QB Derek Carr alone makes this a logical pick, although Oakies would happily “settle” for Williams if Jax grabs Cooper, a possibility.
SUPER BONUS DRAFT FACT: Chicago is hosting this year’s three-day draft, the first time since 1964 it has not been held in New York. A caravan of Jets fans has made the 800-mile drive west, preparing for the draft by continually angrily booing in their cars en route in incredulous anticipation of the team’s expected ridiculous first-round selection.
5. Washington Redskins — Dante Fowler Jr., DE/OLB, Florida: May be a very slight reach to grab the Gator this soon, but Fowler is draft’s best pure pass-rusher, and that’s a pressing Skins need.
6. New York Stinkin’ Jets — Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa: Would love Mariota to fall to here, but that’s dreaming. Scherff is not a choice to excite fans, and a trade-down is possible, but this pick makes more sense than other more fan-pleasing options such as Todd Gurley.
7. Chicago Bears — Kevin White, WR, West Virginia: This is a wideout-strong draft, Bears need to replace departed Brandon Marshall, and White is second-highest-rated receiver after Cooper.
8. Atlanta Falcons — Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: Gurley is coming off an injury but Falcs roll dice on his huge upside and keep in in-state. Although Vic Beasley or any of two or three other highly regarded pass rushers will tempt here as well.
SUPER BONUS DRAFT FACT: Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey and new VP of personnel Mike Tannenbaum imparted as little information about the team’s plans as possible during this week’s pre-draft media news conference. Hickey would not acknowledge Miami would be participating in the draft, while Tannenbaum declined to confirm he was, in fact, Tannenbaum.
9. New York Giants — Landon Collins, S, Alabama: A surprise; most mocks have Collins going mid-round or even a bit lower. But Biggies need a safety and Collins has the Bama pedigree and is draft’s best at the position. A pass-rusher or tackle also could go here — perhaps even Miami’s Ereck Flowers.
10. St. Louis Rams — Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford: O-line a huge need for Rams, and Peat rates a bit higher on most boards than UM’s Flowers. A wideout with speed such as Breshad Perriman also could be in play here.
11. Minnesota Vikings — Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State: Groans in the Dolphins War Room as Vikes fill need with this pick. Waynes would be a strong consideration for Miami if he fell to 14.
12. Cleveland Browns — Danny Shelton, DT, Washington: Browns supposedly love Shelton, a load at nearly 340 pounds and draft’s top pure defensive tackle. Dolphins will be nervous here because Cleveland could cherry-pick DeVante Parker, too.
SUPER BONUS DRAFT FACT: Although Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota notably are not among them, a record 26 potential first-round picks will attend the draft in Chicago. Cannot confirm that nine of the players had to OK the out-of-state travel with their parole officers.
13. New Orleans Saints — Randy Gregory, OLB, Nebraska: Saints need nothing more than they need pass-rush help, and Gregory is draft’s best-rated outside ‘backer, slightly ahead of Vic Beasley and Bud Dupree despite a marijuana blemish.
14. MIAMI DOLPHINS — DEVANTE PARKER, WR, LOUISVILLE: Fins will have interesting options if board plays out as I have it here, but I can’t see them passing on a talent like Parker just because they recently signed veteran wideout Greg Jennings. Miami could do worse philosophically than loading up on weapons to make this the year Ryan Tannehill becomes all that he can be. For that reason UCF’s Breshad Perriman also would tempt here. Hard to believe Todd Gurley would, though, or should, even if he fell to 14. How can you justify running back as your biggest need when Lamar Miller just turned 24 and is coming off a 1,099-yard season in which he averaged a big 5.1 per carry? I could see them opting for a cornerback, however, instead of a receiver. I might take Michigan State’s Waynes if he is available. If he’s gone by now as I have it, Miami could well consider someone like Wake Forest CB Kevin Johnson here if they opt to emphasize pass defense instead of pass offense in the opening round.
15. San Francisco 49ers — Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon: There may be more consensus on this pick than on any outside the top two. Everyone seems to think Niners love Armstead. But keep this name in mind, too: UCLA inside-LB Eric Kendricks.
16. Houston Texans — Breshad Perriman, WR, Central Florida: Texans will be looking to replace departed Andre Johnson, and Perriman fills the bill, although they also could opt to replace Johnson with another ex-Cane, Phillip Dorsett.
SUPER BONUS DRAFT FACT: Draft-coverage rivals ESPN and NFL Network will attempt to out-coverage each other all weekend. Just tuned into ESPN and heard Jon Gruden comparing Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota’s relatives times in the 40-yard Pavhoop, an agility drill in which players are asked to run 40 yards while simultaneously keeping a hula hoop spinning on their hip and singing Pavarotti. NFL Network countered with breaking news that included a TMZ video of Mel Kiper Jr. reportedly using performance-enhancing hair gel in a casino elevator.
17. San Diego Chargers — Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin: Ryan Mathews is gone, Bolts don’t have a starter-caliber back, and Gordon and the previously drafted Gurley are the draft’s only 1R-quality RB options.
18. Kansas City Chiefs — Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami: Finally, a Cane, as the big, blooming Flowers becomes UM’s first first-round draft pick since 2008. Although KC also could opt for a wideout here to pair opposite newly acquired Jeremy Maclin.
19. Cleveland Browns — Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami: Canes back-to-back as Cleveland makes its second pick of the round (see 12). Dorsett could be a reach at 19th overall, but Brown seek an explosive receiver, and 24 yards per catch qualifies.
20. Philadelphia Eagles — Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest: Although I could also see saferty like Damarious Randall or a reciver like Nelson Agholor here.
SUPER BONUS DRAFT FACT: The Dolphins’ official annual Draft Day Party begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday on the stadium’s club level. Activities will include autographs with alumni players and pole dancing by Dolphins cheerleaders. Wait. What!? That can’t be right. Hang on. Checking. OK. No, it turns out that was a typo. It’s actually autographs with cheerleaders and pole dancing by former players.
21. Cincinnati Bengals — Malcolm Brown, DT, Texas: Could also see an offensive tackle like Jake Fisher or a receiver like Nelson Agholor here.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers — Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut: Big Steelers position need, and Jones’ stock is rising, while that of Washington CB Marcus Peters is tumbling because of character questions.
23. Detroit Lions — Cameron Erving, C, Florida State: Erving would neatly slip into where Dominic Raiola played for so long, although another ex-Seminole, DT Eddie Goldman, also would serve Lions well here.
24. Arizona Cardinals — Bud Dupree, OLB, Kentucky: Dupree could be a developmental project, but his upside had him top-10 in some mocks.
SUPER BONUS DRAFT FACT: South Florida bitter-rival sports radio stations The Ticket Miami and WQAM duel annually to see who can air the most draft coverage, unaware that most listeners would rather jump off a high cliff, aflame, than listen to a taped interview in which a local host and Bill Polian discuss right tackles.
25. Carolina Panthers — D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida: Cats could also consider LSU tackle La’el Collins here, but NFL teams tend to be wary of prospects being questioned in the death of a former girlfriend.
26. Baltimore Ravens — Nelson Agholor, WR, Southern Cal: Joe Flacco needs another target so this makes sense, but CB Marcus Peters would here, too.
27. Dallas Cowboys — Marcus Peters, CB, Washington: They’d scoop up RB Melvin Gordon if he fell this far or maybe trade up for him, but, standing pat, ‘Boys have problems to solve all over the field defensively.
28. Denver Broncos — Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon: Because Peyton Manning is old and starting to bruise easily, that’s why.
SUPER BONUS DRAFT FACT: Some may not be aware ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. consults experts in each city for inside draft info and that I was his main Miami guy until last year’s unfortunate mix-up. What happened was, I was misheard a tip from a trusted source, and based on that, instead of reporting that Miami would select tackle Ja’Wuan James in the first round, Kiper reported exclusively that Miami planned to draft “Blart” actor Kevin James.
29. Indianapolis Colts — La’el Collins, OT, Louisiana State: This is presuming the Colts are comfortable that Collins had nothing to do with the shooting death of his former girlfriend, a crime for which he is being questioned but is not called a suspect.
30. Green Bay Packers — Eric Kendricks, ILB, UCLA: Big position need for Pack. This also might be a landing spot for the Hurricanes’ Denzel Perryman if he’s to sneak into first round.
31. New Orleans Saints — Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State: Saints’ second pick of round one (see 13) addresses Drew Brees’ needs.
32. New England Patriots — Laken Tomlinson, OG, Duke: Could also see Florida State DT Eddie Goldman as a neat fit here to replace departed Vince Wilfork. But guard is Pats’ biggest need, and Tomlinson is top-rated, pure OG in draft. Besides, it must be a genius pick. It’s Bill Belichick!