NFL Mock Draft: Three running backs highlight first round

Andy Lyons

Every year, draft "experts" and draft fans alike seem to say that it is a down year for running backs and that their is only one first round prospect at the position. However, year in and year out it seems that their always seems to be a run on surprise first round running backs at the end of the first round. This year, instead of being surprised when it happens on draft day, I am going to see if I can find fits for running backs in the last quarter of the first round.

Round 1

1. Kansas City (2-14) - Geno Smith, quarterback, West Virginia - For the first time in a couple years, their is a genuine battle for who will be the number one pick in the draft. About eight weeks ago, Smith appeared to have this spot locked up. However, the 6-foot-3, 215 pound quarterback struggle mightily in the last four or five games of the season, highlighted by an awful performance vs. Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl. However, with theChiefs desperate need for a quarterback, I believe that after a flirtation with prospects likeDamontre Moore and Bjoern Werner, they will decide to take the potential franchise quarterback. The Chiefs could also use a wide receiver, pass rusher, and cornerback.

2. Jacksonville (2-14) - Damontre Moore, 4-3 defensive end, Texas A&M - The Jaguars, who could use a quarterback, two pass rushers, a cornerback, and some interior defensive line help, are in an interesting spot here. Unlike last year, their is simply no quarterback worthy of this pick. So, the Jaguars will be in a spot to improve their dreadful pass rush, by selecting either Moore, Werner, Lotulelei, or Jones. I have Moore as the highest of the four prospects and also as the best pure pass rusher of the four so I have him mocked their. Much like with the Chiefs pick, their is a lot of uncertainty around this selection and I am sure it will change a lot as we get closer to April's draft.

3. Oakland (4-12) - Star Lotulelei, defensive tackle, Utah - This is actually the easiest of the first three choices because the Raiders biggest need is by far a pass rushing defensive tackle. They could also use a pair of outside linebackers, a cornerback or two and a safety. Simply put, they could really use help all over the defense as well as on the offensive line. With Lotulelei, the Raiders are getting a freakish athlete for a man that is over 320 pounds. Star uses his hands very well and is going to be capable of making a huge impact right away.

4. Philadelphia (4-12) - Luke Joeckel, offensive tackle, Texas A&M - The Eagles have a number of needs this year, including tackle, cornerback, linebacker, and possibly quarterback. Luckily for them, the best player available also fills their biggest need as Joeckel could immediately come in and protect Vick or Foles' blindside (he would likely play right tackle if Vick was the QB). Joeckel excels in both pass blocking and run blocking and has all of the tools looked for in an elite offensive tackle prospect. He did an unbelievable job protecting the Heisman Trophy winner's blindside and kept possible top ten pick, Jake Matthews, playing right tackle.

5. Detroit (4-12) - Bjoern Werner, 4-3 defensive end, Florida State - The Lions need to improve their defense on all three levels along with trying to improve their offensive line. Their biggest need is at defensive end, where they lack a guy who demands double teams or even simply attention from the tight ends. Werner, who I have rated above Jarvis Jones, is a tenacious player who uses his hands in a violent fashion. He rarely, if ever, gives up on plays and he has good strength. He is not going to wow you with his athleticism but he will wow you with his production.

6. Cleveland (5-11) - Jarvis Jones, 3-4 outside linebacker, 4-3 defensive end, Georgia - Jones is a versatile prospect who is often mis-evaluated. Many say Jones is a freak pass rusher who struggles against the run but those people could not be more wrong. Jones, while being a good to borderline elite pass rushing prospect, really thrives in run support. He is the best run support outside linebacker to come along in a while. He engages blockers well and uses his hands to fight off of them. He also has shown great vision of the field, and multiple times in the SEC Championship game, I saw him go from one side of the field to the other to make a tackle. He has some concerns over a severe back injury from early in his college days that could drop his stock after the combine if his back does not check out.

7. Arizona (5-11) - Jake Matthews, offensive tackle, Texas A&M - The Cardinals could desperately use a quarterback but I don't think any QB will succeed in Arizona until they improve their offensive line. With a lot of quality round two quarterback prospects, I believe that the Cardinals are best off using this pick to select Jake Matthews if he declares. Matthews did an unbelievable job at right tackle this year for the Aggies and reminds me a lot of former college right tackle turned NFL left tackle Tyron Smith, who played right tackle because of Matt Kalil. Matthews does not have a weakness in his game and would instantly be a huge upgrade over either of the Cardinals tackles.

8. Buffalo (6-10) - Ryan Nassib, quarterback, Syracuse - This pick really just makes too much sense for me. Nassib played and thrived for new Bills coach Doug Marrone at Syracuse and possesses all the traits needed to thrive in the Bills new offensive system, which will be installed by new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who was Nassib's OC at Syracuse. Nassib is currently projected to go somewhere between 20 and 35 but I believe he will see his stock rise to the point where he becomes the number two quarterback in the draft. He has all the tools to be a great quarterback and should be an instant upgrade over Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bills could also use a cornerback or three, an inside linebacker, and a wide receiver.

9. New York Jets (6-10) - Barkevious Mingo, 3-4 outside linebacker, LSU - The Jets are in desperate need of play makers on offense but none are worthy of this pick. They could also use a quarterback to develop behind Sanchez for a year before they can release him, but again, none are worthy of this pick. Their final major need is a pass rushing outside linebacker to replace their aging, slow, outside linebackers. Mingo had a mostly disappointing season but had a monster bowl game and with his combination of athleticism, work ethic, and a huge bowl game, he should be a at worst a top 15 pick.

10. Tennessee (6-10) - Dee Milliner, cornerback, Alabama - Tennessee has one of the best corners in the NFL in Jason McCourty but in today's NFL, you can never have enough quality corners. Milliner is easily the best player available and would be an instant upgrade at the Titan's number two corner spot. The Titans could also use a guard, defensive end, and defensive tackle but Milliner is far and away the best player on the board. Milliner did an unbelievable job in the National Championship game covering the 6-foot-6 tight end Tyler Eifert and showed that he can be very physical when needed.

11. San Diego (7-9) - Chance Warmack, offensive guard, Alabama - Chance Warmack single handidly destroyed Manti Te'o's draft stock, bullying him all game long in the BCS title game. Warmack is incredible strong and is the best run blocking guard prospect in decades. However, he is not comparable to DeCastro or Zeitler from last year as a pass blocker but only falls behind them slightly. It is typical for guards to fall but with the Chargers huge need for offensive line help, I don't see Warmack falling past this pick. The Chargers could also use an outside linebacker, cornerback, offensive tackle, and possible a defensive end.

12. Miami (7-9) - Dion Jordan, 3-4 outside linebacker, Oregon - Dion Jordan, at 6-foot-7, 245 pounds, is a freak athlete but he is very raw as both a pass rusher and run defender. He has, however, shown the ability to be great in coverage and that is probably his strong suit as of now. At this point in his career, he can't really play the run but it is not because of a lack of effort. With proper coaching, he could become a real stud across from Cameron Wake.

13. Tampa Bay (7-9) - Johnathan Banks, cornerback, Mississippi State - The Bucs last year passed on Morris Claiborne to select a safety in Mark Barron. This year, however, they will need to use this selection on a cornerback. The Bucs need at least two corners for next year, if not three or four. They probably have the worst cornerbacks in the NFL. Banks is a stud and thrives in man press coverage, which Schiano played a lot of in college at Rutgers.

14. Carolina (7-9) - Sheldon Richardson, 4-3 defensive tackle, Missouri - The Panthers last year believed that defensive tackle was not a big need but they were wrong. Their interior defensive line was awful and teams ran right up the gut all year. This year, they have to address DT early and Richardson is a great fit for their scheme. He has great quickness and is very strong. He also possesses some good pass rushing ability as well.

15. New Orleans (7-9) - Jonathan Hankins, 4-3 nose tackle, Ohio State - The Saints run defense was awful this year, as was their pass defense. They could use help at all three levels and Hankins is the best player available. He fits better as a 4-3 nose tackle than 3-4 nose tackle which works for the Saints, since they play a 4-3 scheme. Hankins is a great run stuffer and has shown some pass rushing ability in his career.

16. St. Louis (7-8-1) - Keenan Allen, wide receiver, California - The Rams have a few needs, including guard, receiver, safety, and possibly linebacker as well. The top player on the board is Keenan Allen and he also happens to be the top receiver in the draft. He is not going to wow you with measureables or forty times but he excels in all the traits of being an actual receiver. He is an unbelievable route runner, has great hands, and can make the tough grabs. He is a willing blocker and has shown the ability to do just about everything needed.

17. Pittsburgh (8-8) - Jesse Williams, 3-4 nose tackle, 3-4 defensive end, Alabama - TheSteelers are in an interesting situation here with a number of good prospects on the board. The options include Manti Te'o, Matt Elam, Giovani Bernard, and Taylor Lewan. I believe Jesse Williams is the best player available and he could come in an work in a tandem withSteve McLendon at nose tackle while also rotating out to defensive end when needed. He is a true three down player and provides pass rushing ability while also being awesome against the run. The Steelers would also be in a possible spot to trade down here.

18. Dallas (8-8) - Matt Elam, safety, Florida - Dallas got their cornerback last year in Claiborne and now they are a safety away from having a good secondary. Elam is the top safety in this year's class and can do everything. He can come up and support the run, cover slot receivers, and play center field. His stock is soaring now after a monster bowl game vs. Louisville and he could rise all the way up to the top 15.

19. New York Giants (9-7) - Ezekiel Ansah, 4-3 defensive end, BYU - The Giants loves taking athletes with their first round pick and Ansah is the best athlete available. It also helps that he would fill a need with Osi Umenyiora probably departing. Ansah is raw but he has shown some significant improvement in the past year. He now seems to have a couple solid pass rushing moves and he could have a big impact if he is coached properly.

20. Chicago (10-6) - Lane Johnson, offensive tackle, Oklahoma - Johnson's stock is surging right now after a series of five or six awesome games to end the season, including a great bowl performance against star Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore. With Taylor Lewan returning to school, Johnson becomes the third best tackle prospect in this class and a likely top 25 pick. His status as a first round prospect is all but cemented and I could see him rising even further.

21. Cincinnati (10-6) - Giovani Bernard, running back, North Carolina - The Bengals have all the major pieces in place to be a championship caliber team other than an elite running back. Bernard, who has incredible quickness, great vision, and runs with good power, would give them exactly that. He is also one of the top players on the board. The Bengals could also use a corner, linebacker, and defensive end but none of the players at those positions fit here.

22. St. Louis - from Washington (10-6) - Barrett Jones, center, offensive guard, Alabama- The Rams got themselves a number one receiver earlier and now they need to get Bradford some protection. Bradford has one more year most likely to prove he is not a bust and if that is going to happen, he needs to have some time to throw. Jones had a great game in the Championship Game and should see his stock rise because of it. Whether he plays guard or center in the NFL does not really matter since he is equally good at both.

23. Minnesota (10-6) - Terrance Williams, wide receiver, Baylor - The Vikings passing offense was dreadful once Percy Harvin got injured and it is because they don't have another game breaking receiver. Williams is one of the more productive receivers in the draft and he will give the Vikings a great pairing for Harvin. He has good speed and size and great hands. His route running is solid as well and he is a willing blocker, although he was not asked to block much at Baylor.

24. Indianapolis (11-5) - Eddie Lacy, running back, Alabama - The Colts offense was one of the best in the league this year, but they often asked Luck to do to much, mostly because they had no quality running backs. Lacy, who had a huge end to the season, runs with incredible power and has a nasty spin move. His stock is soaring and he should be a late first round pick now. He would be the missing piece to making the Colts offense a top five offense.

25. Seattle (11-5) - Kevin Minter, inside linebacker, LSU - Seattle is in a position to pick the best player available and that is inside linebacker Kevin Minter. Minter, who is a good but not great athlete, has awesome instincts and is built best to be a strongside 3-4 inside linebacker. He is awesome in run support, good in pass coverage, and provides a little bit of a pass rush to go along with that. He had 18 tackles in his bowl game and his stock is on the way up right now.

26. Green Bay (11-5) - Eric Fisher, offensive tackle, Central Michigan - The only thing holding Aaron Rodgers back is his horrible offensive line. Fisher is a first round prospect with big upside. He thrives in pass protection but needs to add some strength to become a better run blocker. This is a good fit for him because the Packers don't pass much. His stock is a little low right now but it could surge if he does well in the senior bowl.

27. Houston (12-4) - Alec Ogletree, inside linebacker, Georgia - The Texans are like theSeahawks and they can afford to take the best player available. Ogletree, who is a freak athlete, projects as a weakside 3-4 inside linebacker and the Texans could actually use an upgrade their. Ogletree thrives when playing in space and he is a capable pass rusher. He can also be used as a great weapon in pass coverage, lined up man to man on most of the tight ends in the NFL.

28. Denver (13-3) - Joseph Randle, running back, Oklahoma State - The Broncos have a great offense but they could use an elite running back. Along with a running back, the Broncos could use a defensive tackle and a cornerback. Randle has great explosiveness and great vision. He runs hard and never gives up on a run. He could be a great NFL back and fits well in the Broncos wide open scheme.

29. Baltimore* (10-6) - Manti Te'o, inside linebacker, Notre Dame - With Ray Lewis set to retire, it is time for the Ravens to find his replacement and Te'o is a great fit. While not being a great athlete and coming off a dreadful performance in the National Championship game, Te'o is a leader with great instincts and is a great pass defender. He has seven interceptions on the year and some of them were very tough catches. He should be a starter right away for the Ravens.

30. San Francisco* (11-4-1) - Tony Jefferson, safety, Oklahoma - If the 49ers have one weakness, it is at safety and even so, their safeties are not bad. However, Tony Jefferson would likely provide an upgrade at free safety. Jefferson is a big time hitter who is also a great ball hawk. He thrives when playing center field but can also play some man coverage on slot receivers.

31. New England* (12-4) - Sam Montgomery, 4-3 defensive end, LSU - Montgomery is a star athlete but needs a lot of fine tuning. He has poor technique but is solid in run support. With proper coaching, he could become just the type of versatile weapon that the Patriotsloves.

32. Atlanta* (13-3) - Tyler Eifert, tight end, Notre Dame - Legendary tight end Tony Gonzalez is nearing the end of his career and the Falcons need a replacement. Eifert is the top tight end in the draft and he could be just that guy. At 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, he has elite size and is also a good athlete. He is a quality receiver but he is not known for his blocking.

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