First, I need to know if any of the cornerbacks who appear to be late-first/early-second rounders can run a 4.3 40. That would boost the stock of, say, a Kyle Wilson up to pick 18.
But even before the combine, I need a better understanding of the needs of the teams picking in the first 17 spots. So after studying those teams, and what the experts surrounding those teams have to say, here's my top 17-pick mock-up:
1.) Rams – DT Ndamukong Suh; gives them three DL out of their last four first-round picks, but he's clearly the class.
2.) Lions – DT Gerald McCoy; need at defensive tackle overcomes their need at OT because of the better available talent.
3.) Bucs – WR Dez Bryant; the brass promised fans that in this draft they'll provide help for last year's rookie first-round QB, so this pick will help a WR corps that finished 30th in yards after the catch and 31st in drops.
4.) Redskins – OT Russell Okung; because new Coach Mike Shanahan realizes he may as well protect the bad QB he has rather than draft another questionable QB prospect.
5.) Chiefs – ILB Rolando McClain; he captained a 3-4 defense in college as an ILB, and this young 3-4 defense needs a leader, not to mention a playmaker.
6.) Seahawks – CB Joe Haden; new coach Pete Carroll needs safety help, but tough to draft at that position, which is deep this draft, when best CB is available.
7.) Browns – S Eric Berry; really wanted Bryant to give their JV WR corps a true No. 1, and will pass on the bland QB prospects here for help in the deep patrol. (Very easily could be Haden if Carroll drafts Berry to fill Seahawks' need at safety.)
8.) Raiders – QB Jimmy Clausen; no sense putting off the QB pick when the Raiders have come to the realization that JaMarcus Russell can't do the job. Better deep ball than Sam Bradford sways Al Davis.
11.) Broncos – QB Sam Bradford; Kyle Orton's not the answer for a QB-oriented coach, and Bradford has played in a similar spread offense.
12.) Dolphins – NT Dan Williams; tough pick for a team that needs a WR, but Bill Parcells is notorious for not drafting WRs early and there's really not one who's deserving right now. After considering Sean Weatherspoon, will go with a bigger player in a more Parcells-like first-round pick.
13.) 49ers – OT Bryan Bulaga; many feel team can fill big hole at RT later in the draft, but potential to eventually play LT makes this player more appealing.
14.) Seahawks – DT Brian Price; just as Carroll passed on Taylor Mays earlier, he passes on LT Charles Brown to fill other need because he knows the flaws in each former player all too well. But Carroll recognizes the talent in this former crosstown rival.
15.) Giants – DT Jared Odrick; another team that needs a middle backer, but just can't pull the trigger on Weatherspoon or Spikes, so they fall back on another DL, which they surprisingly need again. Kenny Phillips' return from injury fills the team's big hole at safety.
16. 49ers – RB C.J. Spiller; yes, the 49ers come away with a RT and part-time RB in the first round, but couldn't ignore value of true playmaker in rounding out backfield stable.
17.) Titans – S Earl Thomas; word coming out that Thomas probably can play cornerback in the NFL, so versatility and ballhawking skills make him the pick here.
So, for those following along, that leaves the Steelers with players such as LBs Weatherspoon and Spikes, RB Jahvid Best, WR Golden Tate, OLB Brandon Graham, FS Chad Jones, OG Mike Iupati, C Maurkice Pouncey, OT Bruce Campbell, DE Jason Pierre-Paul, and CBs Wilson and Patrick Robinson. I'll discuss those options in Part II.