17. Minnesota Vikings: Ernie Sims, OLB Florida State – The Vikings have been very active in free agency but the one position they still need to address is outside linebacker. Sims' stock has been on the rise and although he's a little small, he's a good fit in the Vikings defensive system. Defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin comes from Tampa Bay, so he's used to dealing with undersized linebackers and putting them in position to be successful. Sims is an athletic player with great speed. He's very quick moving laterally and can chase down ball carriers from anyplace on the field. Watching film, Sims is all over the place making plays and that's exactly the kind of player the Vikings need on the defensive side of the ball. Minnesota is rumored to want one of the top quarterbacks, so trading up is a possibility for them as well.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Bobby Carpenter, OLB Ohio State - Bill Parcells loves big, physical linebackers with versatility, so he should be drooling over Carpenter. At 6-3 and 256 pounds, the former Buckeye has the size Parcells has wanted at the linebacker position ever since he arrived in Dallas. Carpenter has tremendous speed and is a great pass rusher off the edge, similar to the Patriots Mike Vrabel who he is friends with and says he patterns his game after. Carpenter's father, Rob, played for Parcells in New York, so there's a good chance The Tuna has had an eye on the him for some time now. After watching film on the linebackers, I think Carpenter is the best pass rusher out of the bunch. He has the best 10-20 yard closing speed of any linebacker in this year's draft. I think he would be a steal for the Cowboys at this point. There are probably some in the Patriots organization who are hoping Carpenter slips to them.
19. San Diego Chargers: Santonio Holmes, WR Ohio State - San Diego can go in a lot of different directions here but with Reche Caldwell now a Patriot and Keenan McCardell a year older, receiver is a position they need to address – both now and for the future. While McCardell is still very productive, Holmes has the speed and explosiveness to be a nice compliment early in his career and emerge as a No. 1 receiver once McCardell retires. Holmes does drop some balls but he's a smooth route runner with a lot of upside. Another weapon on offense along with McCardell, LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates will only help the young Phillip Rivers develop as a quarterback. The Chargers secondary and linebackers are in need of an upgrade as well but a player with Holmes' ability will be tough to pass up in a draft that isn't deep at the receiver position.
20. Kansas City Chiefs: Tamba Hali, DE Penn State – Jared Allen is a great pass rusher from one side but the Chiefs really don't have anyone else on their defensive front who gets to the quarterback on a regular basis. Kansas City's defensive line registered 19 sacks last season and Allen accounted for 11 of those. Finding another pass rusher will help limit the double teams Allen sees on virtually every play. Hali was a very productive player at Penn State and he impressed scouts at The Senior Bowl with his work ethic and high motor. He doesn't have the computer numbers that some of the other players in this draft do. However, if you are just talking about what he does on the field, Hali is one of the best defensive ends coming out this year. Unless a receiver like Jackson or Holmes is still available, it's safe to assume the Chiefs will use this pick to continue rebuilding their defense.
21. New England Patriots: Manny Lawson DE/OLB North Carolina State – The Patriots have a lot of holes that need to be filled but after losing Willie McGinest, finding a pass rusher to replace him is high on their list of priorities. Lawson is a physical freak who can not only rush the passer off the edge but also drop back in coverage if he's asked to. At 260 pounds, Lawson turned heads at The Combine when he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash. Getting a guy with Lawson's potential at 21 would be a steal for the Patriots. Especially when you consider that his teammate from North Carolina State, Mario Williams, will most likely be a top three pick. Putting a freak like Lawson in the hands of Bill Belichick is actually illegal in 32 states. He's a player similar to the Cowboys DeMarcus Ware. Much like the Cowboys speed rusher did last year; Lawson can come in as a rookie and be a force right away. Cleveland, Miami and Dallas are also hot for Lawson so the Patriots may have to trade up to get him but if he's in New England next season, there's going to be a lot of nervous quarterbacks in the AFC East.
22. Denver Broncos: Laurence Maroney, RB Minnesota – The Broncos let Mike Anderson go and Mike Shanahan isn't enamored with Tatum Bell, so there's a good chance Denver could grab a running back with one of their two first round selections. Let's be honest, even though he played well last year, no team wants their running game resting entirely on the shoulders of Ron Dayne. Maroney would be a perfect fit in Denver because he played in the same kind of zone-blocking scheme at Minnesota. A 217-pound lightning bolt that can score from anyplace on the field, Maroney has great vision in the hole – something the Broncos look for in a running back. Having a pounder like Dayne and a homerun hitter like Maroney alternating in the backfield would make an already deadly Broncos running game even deadlier. As for Tatum Bell, don't be surprised if he's traded by draft day. If Denver added Chad Jackson and Maroney in this draft, I think everyone would agree that's a pretty good haul for them.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Eric Winston, OT Miami - With Anthony Davis and Kenyatta Walker as their current starting offensive tackles, it's obvious the Bucs need to address that position in the draft. Local product Winston had a tremendous Combine, testing well in every drill. After his performance at the Combine, Winston has probably earned himself a spot in the middle-late round. Winston is a smart player who can come in right away and start at tackle with the Bucs. Tampa has been building their offense with good young talent over the past couple of years and now it's time they solidify their offensive line. With the talent they have at the skill positions, the Bucs could have an explosive offense is Chris Simms has time to deliver the football and Cadillac Williams has holes to run through. The Bucs could also address an aging defense but offensive tackle appears to be their biggest need at this point.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Gabe Watson, DT Michigan - The Bengals need a big space eater in the middle of their defense and at 6'3, 340 pounds, Watson will certainly eat up a lot of space. Watson's work ethic was questioned at Michigan and he was actually benched by coach Lloyd Carr for a couple of games. However, his stock has been skyrocketing since the end of the season. Watson had a great Senior Bowl week and also impressed at the Combine. When he's motivated, Watson has top ten talent and Marvin Lewis is known as a coach who gives players a second chance. Watson would fill a huge need for the Bengals on defense and if he plays up to his ability, he could be a steal down the road.
25. New York Giants: Chad Greenway, OLB Iowa – The Giants addressed their problems at cornerback through free agency by bringing in former Dolphin Sam Madison, among others. While it's not inconceivable that the Giants will draft a young cornerback here, they also have a need for an outside linebacker. Greenway has been slipping down draft boards after performing poorly at the Combine but he's a good value pick this late in the draft. Put Greenway on the football field, however, and he's a productive leader who plays much better than his computer numbers would indicate. When you think Chad Greenway, think Lofa Tatupu. Guys who don't wow you in the 40 but just make plays on the football field because of their intelligence and hard work. I personally don't like Greenway and think he'll struggle in the NFL. However, I'm not a general manager of a pro football team, so I'll keep my personal feelings out of the mock draft.
26. Chicago Bears: Sinorice Moss, WR Miami - Moss said repeatedly at the Combine that the Bears were showing a lot of interest in him and it makes sense. Moss has been compared to the Panthers Steve Smith because of his smallish stature and explosive speed. If the Bears draft Moss, they can team him with Mushin Muhammad and have the kind of deadly combination the Panthers had a couple of years ago. We already know the Bears have a great defense so adding another playmaker on offense to help out young quarterback Rex Grossman makes sense. The Bears need help at cornerback so Tye Hill is a possibility here as well but after missing out on Antwaan Randle El in free agency, look for them to grab their wide receiver with this pick.
27. Carolina Panthers: Marcus McNeil, OT Auburn - The Panthers need an upgrade over Travelle Wharton at left tackle and the mammoth McNeil is a good player with upside. At 6'9 and 330 pounds, McNeil has the size to succeed in the NFL but he's also very athletic for such a big guy. He may not be as polished as some of the other tackles in this draft but with his size and athletic ability, McNeil has a chance to become a dominant left tackle. McNeil ran a 5.07 40-yard dash at the Combine and showed plenty of ability in the other drills. Carolina could go in a lot of different directions with this pick but adding a young offensive tackle is certainly one of them.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars: Tye Hill, CB Clemson – Hill cemented a spot in the first round after running the fastest time at the Combine – a 4.30 40-yard dash. . Rasheen Mathis is set at one corner but Jacksonville needs an upgrade over Kenny Wright on the other side. Hill would be able to play in Jacksonville's nickel package as a rookie and possibly push Wright for the starting job. His quickness and ball hawking ability would make Hill a welcome addition to the Jaguars already stout defense.
29. New York Jets: Kamerion Wimbley, DE/OLB Florida State – This pick is also part of the John Abraham deal. Wimbley's stock has been on the rise since the Combine and he would be an excellent replacement for Abraham if he were still on the board at 29. Wimbley is similar to Lawson when it comes to rushing the quarterback from the outside but he's not as good in coverage as Lawson is. Now that Abraham is in Atlanta, the Jets need a pass rusher to play in their 3-4 defense. Wimbley has the quickness and speed to eventually take on the same responsibilities that Abraham had. If the Jets come away from the first round with two quality players like Ferguson and Wimbley, it will be a good start to the Eric Mangini era in New York.
30. Indianapolis Colts: Darren Howard, LB UTEP – The Colts are hoping that one of the top running backs falls to them but in my mock draft, I don't have that happening. They could move up and grab someone like Maroney but if they stay at 30 and the top four backs are off the board, look for them to address the defense. The Colts lost David Thornton to the Titans, so they need depth at the linebacker position. Howard is one of the fastest, most athletic linebackers in the draft and he would be a perfect fit for the Colts defensive scheme that preaches speed over size. Howard began his college career at safety before switching to linebacker. He has great coverage skills and would be more than an adequate replacement for the departed Thornton.
31. Seattle Seahawks: Max-Jean Gilles, G Georgia – After losing Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson to the Vikings, guard now becomes a position the Seahawks need to address in the draft. The team signed former Patriot Tom Ashworth but he's never played guard on a consistent basis. Sitting at 31, the Seahawks may have the luxury of grabbing a future star in Jean-Gilles. At 6-3, 355 pounds, Jean-Gilles is an absolute beast. This guy weighed 310 pounds in the 10th grade. He has freakish strength, as he showed at The Senior Bowl when he picked up the 340-pound Gabe Watson and tossed him around like a rag doll. Getting a monster like Jean-Gilles at the end of round one to replace Hutchinson would bode well for the future of the Seahawks running game.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers: Donte Whitner, S Ohio State – The Steelers can pretty much take the best player available here and Whitner would be a fine choice, especially after the team lost safety Chris Hope in free agency. Whitner could potentially play safety or corner in the NFL but in the Steelers defense, his coverage skills would be welcomed at free safety. This way Troy Polamalu can run around and cause havoc. Whitner is a playmaker and his addition would make the Steelers defense even stronger. Free safety is an important position for Pittsburgh because if Polamalu has to be used more in coverage, it not only limits his effectiveness, but that of the entire Steelers defense. Look for the Steelers to target a coverage safety like Whitner here or possibly a receiver like Sinorice Moss to replace Antwaan Randle El if he's still on the board.
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