Van Valkenburg's Mock Draft -- Part 3 (includes Ravens selection)

The Van Valkenburg War Room is having some computer issues today, thus delaying Part 3 of our "One Month Out Mock Draft-O-Palooza" sponsored by the Baltimore Sun Media Group. As frustrated as you might have been when the Ravens drafted Dan Cody, I was equally frustrated this morning when I had to re-type all of what you see below. But excuses are like first-round busts. Everyone has one, and no one wants to hear your sob story. But in an effort to get to the reason we're all here, even pretending I know what I'm talking about, we present selections 21 through 25, including a detailed analysis of who the Ravens should pick, and what they should do if they player they have rated highest is no longer there.

21. Cincinnati Bengals -- Taylor Mays, USC, safety


I'm going to slot Mays here not because I think it's the right pick for the Bengals, or because I think Mays will develop into an All-Pro safety. I'm putting Mays here because I think he'll be a bust, and if there is one team that always knows how to sniff out a bust, it's the Bengals. (Browns fans might have a case, though.) Sometimes it's not even their fault, because talented players who seem like they're about to become Pro Bowlers have a knack for getting hurt. It's almost as if they're cursed. Let's take a quick look at the Bengals last 10 first-round draft picks, shall we? In order, they are: Akili Smith, Peter Warrick, Justin Smith, Levi Jones, Carson Palmer, Chris Perry, David Pollack, Jonathan Joseph, Leon Hall, Keith Rivers, Andre Smith. Of that group, Palmer is the only player to play for the Bengals in a Pro Bowl. (Justin Smith was an alternate in 2009 for the 49ers.) Pollack and Jones might have been great, but serious injuries hurt their chances. Perry, Akili Smith and Warrick were disasters. Joseph, Hall and Rivers have been solid starters, but not elite players. At least not yet. Andre Smith looks like a bust. So let's go ahead and pencil Taylor Mays in here and welcome him to this legacy of failure. The Bengals need help in the secondary, and the fact that he ran one of the fastest 40 times at the combine will be too much to pass up on. He has the physical size and skills to be on of the best safeties in the NFL, but he doesn't really like to hit people and he's not that great in coverage. Sounds like a great combination for Cincy.

22. New England Patriots -- Sergio Kindle, Texas, linebacker/defensive end


A number of experts think Brandon Graham goes here, and he would definitely be a good fit, but I'm leaning toward Kindle because I think his versatility can make him the player Bill Belichick thought Adalius Thomas was going to be. He's not quite big enough to play straight-up defensive end, but he does run well enough (4.7 in the 40) that he can make plays all over the field and drop into coverage if needed. Watching the Ravens/Patriots divisional playoff game last year, the thing that stood out the most was just how OLD the Patriots looked. Kindle is relentless at chasing down plays from behind and a getting upfield to go after the quarterback. He'd give the Pats a much-needed spark in terms of youth on defense.

23. Green Bay Packers -- Brandon Graham, Michigan, linebacker/defensive end

The Packers, like the Ravens, don't draft based on need. Their philosophy is best player available. It's the reason they took Aaron Rodgers several years ago even though they still had Brett Favre, which is probably the genesis of Favre's never-ending feud with Packers general manager Ted Thompson. The Packers need an offensive tackle and a cornerback, but they also really need a pass rusher. (Think about how often Kurt Warner had tons of time to throw in their 51-45 playoff loss to the Cardinals.) This is an area where need meets the best player available. Graham doesn't have ideal size, but the kid is a great football player. He gets to the ball, often behind the line of scrimmage, and is a sure tackler. Thompson's picks tend to be a bit of a surprise, so with all the experts assuming Green Bay will go for an offensive tackle -- assuming one of the top rated tackles doesn't slip this far -- we'll buck the trend and say Graham is the highest-rated player on the Packers' board at this point.

24. Philadelphia Eagles -- Carlos Dunlap, Florida, defensive end

I labored over this pick for a long time. I'm going to predict that, in the end, the Eagles are going to try and trade out of the first round. They need help on the offensive line and at defensive end, and they could potentially grab the guy they want at either of those positions by trading down. However, since we can't really predict where they'll go, we'll slot Dunlap here. The Eagles are one of those franchises that doesn't let character concerns outweigh talent in their evaluation process. So the fact that Dunlap was arrested for DUI and had to miss the most important game of the season won't concern them as much as it might some teams. After missing out on Julius Peppers in free agency, Philadelphia might be willing to gamble on a player of similar size and speed, and gamble that the coaching staff and the veterans on the team will be able to motivate him to play hard more often. Dunlap has potential bust written all over him, but there are also flashes of undeniable talent that suggest he could be a steal this late in the first round.

25. Baltimore Ravens -- Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma, tight end.

I know what you're thinking. You've waited three days to see who the Ravens might pick in this mock draft, and now you finally get here and it's the same guy everyone has been predicting the Ravens will take for the last month, including Kiper and Todd McShay. Some great insight, right? But I'll assure you, I wrestled with this for the better part of a week, trying to come up with a selection that made more sense. I really believe the Ravens would be best served by trading down if it means they can grab another second-round pick and possibly a third. This is such a deep draft that there isn't a big enough gap between first-round talent and second-round talent at the positions the Ravens will be targeting this late in the first round. But for the purposes of this mock draft, we're going to have to assume the Ravens stay put. Gresham is the one player who has enough talent and the potential to be an all-Pro, which would make staying put make sense.

There is, of course, a good chance he won't be here. The Bengals could wake up and realize Taylor Mays doesn't actually like to hit people and then grab Gresham. They might even do it in part because they don't want to pass on him and then get burned by him for the next 10 years in a Ravens uniform. If that happens, the Ravens should definitely get out of the first round if they can find someone willing to swing a deal. Here is why:


I know a lot of projections now have the Ravens taking Penn State's Jared Odrick with this pick if Gresham is gone, but I just don't buy that he's a first-round talent. Odrick would be a reach based on need, and the Ravens don't reach with first-round picks. Eric DeCosta told me in a pre-combine interview that, if two players are really close in their evaluations, then the Ravens are willing to let need break the tie. I just don't believe Odrick's value is high enough that it would outweigh potentially getting one of the cornerbacks (like Devin McCourty, Patrick Robinson or Kareem Jackson) plus a tight end (like Rob Gronkowski, Anthony McCoy, Aaron Hernandez, Jimmy Graham or Ed Dickson) in the second or third round. Plus, in terms of evaluating the pass rush, the Ravens have to believe Terrell Suggs is going to play better in 2010, and that Paul Kruger is going to play better as well, despite the fact that half the fan base seems to have soured on both of them.

Odrick has the chance to be a good player, but I don't see how he ever becomes a special player. (Even in the 3-4 defense, you need a five-technique tackle who showed more production than making 41 stops and seven sacks his senior year in college as Odrick did. By comparison, Kelly Gregg had 117 tackles and nine sacks his senior year at OU.) I also suspect that hitting on Lardarius Webb last year has the Ravens feeling like they know how to evaluate corners who are slotted in the middle rounds. I know it flies in the face of what a lot of fans want to believe, but I just don't see how Webb is going to be ready to play at a high level when the season starts. And Fabian Washington wasn't exactly a shut down corner when healthy. Getting a cornerback in this draft is a must. Gresham is a good enough player that the Ravens could grab him in the first round, then get a cornerback in the second round, and still feel really good about their team headed into 2010. It would also match up well with Steve Bisciotti's and Ozzie Newsome's comments at the end of last season about getting Joe Flacco some weapons to work with. Flacco's biggest handicap last year was he didn't have anyone who could get open in the middle, other than Ray Rice on delayed-release patterns. Gresham would seem to solve that problem. He didn't time particularly fast, but he plays fast and has soft hands. You can line him up in the slot and create all kinds of match-up problems. Had he not been injured, or had he come out after the 2008 season, there is a decent chance he'd have been drafted much earlier that this spot. If he's still on the board at No. 25, he's the best player available and worthy of a first-round selection.

If he's not there, I'd do everything I could to target McCourty, the cornerback from Rutgers, but only if you can move back to near the top of the second round by swapping that first-round pick. Not only is he a quality corner, he's also a very good special teams player, and we all know the Ravens need to improve in that area.

My mock up of the final seven picks will be posted this afternoon.