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Van Valkenburg's One Month Out Mock Draft

The NFL Draft is one month away. Gives you chills, doesn't it? (Note: You might need to see a doctor if this is actually true.) Despite what your friend's friend's cousin's sister's friend says, they didn't actually sneak a peak inside the Ravens war room, and don't actually know who Baltimore is going to pick, no matter what they post on Ravens message boards.

But that's one of the reasons why mock drafts are kind of fun. Everyone who follows the NFL does one in their head. And everyone else with a Wordpress blogging account does one on the Internet. I'm not sure there is any particular expertise required to do a mock draft, but then, the Redskins have shown us all that there isn't any particular expertise required to own an NFL franchise, so it's no wonder we have so many would-be, wanna-be Mel Kiper's out there.

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Last year, in celebration of just how silly mock drafts are, I did a what I called "A Mockery of Mock Drafts" for our Toy Department blog, and I'll likely rehash that concept as the draft nears. (As you can see if you follow that link, one of the reasons I joked that mock drafts were so stupid, and deserved to be mocked, were the projections I'd seen that had Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey going to the Raiders with the seventh pick. That would never happen, I surmised. Shows what I know.)

But today begins a semi-serious stab at my own mock draft, which is based on interviews I did at the NFL Combine, knowledge I acquired during during my own pathetic college football career, and general hunches and guesses.

Please remember when reading this completely free blog that these results are guaranteed, or your money back. Today, we'll knock out the first 10 teams, and be back for 10 more on Tuesday, then wrap up with the final 12 on Wednesday. Let the mockery begin.

1. St. Louis Rams -- Sam Bradford, Oklahoma, quarterback

Mel Kiper and Todd McShay are holding fast to their belief that it will be one of the two defensive tackles, but I still believe it will end up being Bradford when the dust settles after his Pro Day on March 29. Drafting a quarterback with the first pick is always seen as a gamble, but no more so than drafting a defensive tackle and handing him $50 million. Even the best defensive tackle in the league doesn't affect the game the way a great quarterback does, and Bradford has the potential to be a great quarterback. Mark Sanchez, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco are prime examples of how a young quarterback can help turn your franchise around quickly. Bradford is accurate throwing the ball various distances, and he has a strong arm a quick release. Those skills are essential to be successful at this level. The quarterbacks who failed in recent years all lacked one of them. (Brady Quinn, for instance, wasn't very accurate throwing passes beyond 10 yards. Kyle Boller wasn't accurate at all.) The main knock on Bradford was his injury history, but when he showed up at the combine weighing 236 pounds, he convinced a lot of people had the size to play in the NFL. Rumor at the combine was that scouts, general managers and coaches were extremely impressed with the way he handled his interviews and the way he broke down offensive plays. The Rams have already committed a ton of money to their defensive line. That's why, in the end, I think they'll decide to gamble on Bradford instead.

2. Detroit Lions -- Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska, defensive tackle

I'm not sure I buy the idea that Gerald McCoy has more "upside" than Suh because he can be more disruptive in the passing game. For starters, they played in different systems. Suh's responsibility wasn't shooting gaps, it was blowing up the middle and reacting to the ball. Even with that responsibility, he had more sacks and more tackles for loss than McCoy, so it's unclear who McCoy earned this reputation as a quarterback slayer and Suh as a run stuffer. McCoy might be quicker, but Suh is as unblockable as a Kodiak bear. He's much stronger than McCoy in the upper body and to be honest, I think he's the safer pick. The Lions need a sure thing, especially with this much money at stake.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma, defensive tackle

Getting McCoy here would probably feel like a steal for the Bucs, since plenty of projections have him going first overall. McCoy has exceptional footwork and he's freaky athletic for being as big as he is. He'd be a great fit in Tampa's 4-3 defense. I'm still not sold on his upper body strength though. At the combine, he benched 225 pounds 26 times, which is a pretty poor showing for a defensive tackle in the running to be the top pick in the draft. But the tape doesn't lie -- he's a player. The Bucs need someone to be their next Warren Sapp, and either McCoy or Suh sould be that guy. I just don't like giving 300-pound guys $50 million dollars. That's a lot of meal money.

4. Washington Redskins -- Russell Okung, Oklahoma State, tackle

If the Redskins take Jimmy Clausen here, I really think we'll look back on it five years from now and laugh at how foolish it was. I know some experts have him rated his high because he's played in a Pro Style offense, but so did Brady Quinn. Ask yourself this: Is Clausen really $25 million better than, say, Colt McCoy, who will be a second round pick? Hell no. He's better, certainly, but not $25 million better. I also think Mike Shanahan is arrogant enough to believe he doesn't need to pick a quarterback this high to be successful, that he believes he's enough of a quarterback guru to see what he can do with Jason Campbell first, and if that doesn't work out, he'll address the position down the road. If Bradford is still here, then the Redskins will take a quarterback. But Jimmy Clausen isn't Sam Bradford. Okung could solidify their left tackle spot for a decade. He has great feet, long arms, and he benched 225 pounds 38 times at the NFL Combine, which was the most of any tackle prospect.

5. Kansas City Chiefs -- Eric Berry, Tennessee, safety

In my amateur opinion, Berry is the best player in the draft, and the Chiefs should sprint to the podium if he's available here. It's difficult to pick safeties this high in the draft, which is why it's rarely done, but Berry is probably the best college safety since Ed Reed, and he could even play corner if you needed him there. He's fast, strong, a leader, a big hitter and solid tackler, and he has that innate ability to anticipate and make plays in space. He nearly broke the NCAA record for career interception return yardage, and he's already essentially played in an NFL defensive scheme, having played under former Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kifflin at Tennessee. The team that drafts him will start him from day one and never regret it. Of all the players I saw or interviewed at the NFL combine, his personality was the one that stood out the most. He's a leader and a hard worker. I'd be stunned if he wasn't a success.

6. Seattle Seahawks -- Brian Bulaga, Iowa, tackle

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C.J. Spiller makes sense here too, but I'm going to wager that Seattle thinks he'll still be there at No. 14, and in this scenario they not only get a speedy running back, they get a tackle to replace Walter Jones, and one who could anchor the left side of their line for a decade. The one knock on Bulaga is that he could improve his pass protection, but he can drive his feet run blocking as well as anyone and and has great balance. The Seahawks might have Trent Williams from Oklahoma rated higher than Bulaga, and Williams is more athletic, but Bulaga is a safe pick that's unlikely to be a bust. The Pete Carroll Era needs to get off to a good start, and protect Matt Hasselbeck in the process.

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7. Cleveland Browns -- Joe Haden, Florida, cornerback

I don't buy the suggestion that Haden torpedoed his draft stock with a poor 40 time at the combine (4.58 seconds). For starters, Haden was suffering from a sprained back, but he ran anyway. NFL general managers appreciate that kind of competitiveness. At his Pro Day in Gainsville, he was clocked in the 4.4 range with some scouts having him as low as 4.3 and change. That should answer questions about his speed. The Browns need a lot of help, and if they drafted like the Ravens do (best player available) they'd probably grab Dez Bryant here, because that offense desperately needs help. But Bryant, who was allegedly constantly late for practices and even games in college, doesn't strike me as the kind of player who would exactly make a smooth transition to playing for a tyrant like Eric Mangini and under a gruff disciplinarian like Mike Holmgren. His decision not the run at the combine, and his recent friendship with PacMan Jones, have only amplified questions about his character. I think Bryant can still be a great player with someone, but it won't be with the Browns. They need someone to cover Anquan Boldin, Hines Ward and Antonio Bryant, which is why Haden makes the most sense.

8. Oakland Raiders -- Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida, defensive end

Everyone assumes that just because Maryland's Bruce Campbell put on a show at the combine, the Raiders won't be able to pass up his raw potential. I call bogus. No way do the Raiders actually take a Maryalnd Terrapin "project" this high two years in a row, not after Darrius Heyward-Bey's horrendous rookie campaign. Unless Al Davis is actually banging his cane on the table in Oakland's war room, demanding they take Campbell like and angry sea captain, I don't see it happening. Campbell wasn't even all-ACC as a junior, and frankly, he didn't deserve to be. (And the ACC isn't exactly a power football conference.) Pierre-Paul's raw potential fits the Raiders profile just as well anyway. I don't really understand how a player with such average statistics generated such incredible hype -- Kiper has Pierre-Paul as the third pick in the draft -- but he has the build and the speed to be the next Jevon Kearse.

9. Buffalo Bills -- Trent Williams, Oklahoma, tackle

Overlooked in all the Bruce Campbell hype is the fact that Williams is almost as athletic as Campbell, and he's a much, much more polished player. At the combine, he had a higher vertical, longer broad jump, and faster shuttle time than Campbell. Campbell was taller, has longer arms, and looked like he was chiseled from.stone, and there are some concerns about Williams' weight. But he's a tough kid who anchored Oklahoma's offensive line, and he's already considered an excellent pass blocker. He just might be JaMarcus Russell's last best shot at salvaging his NFL career.

10. Jacksonville Jaguars -- (Trade down to get Tim Tebow)

There are two things you need to know about this pick: 1. There are always trades on draft day, and mock drafts never try to anticipate them, so we're going to try and correct that with this selection. 2. Jacksonville is in such financial trouble that trading down the the first round gives them not only the opportunity to pick up an extra draft pick, they don't have to pay the player they do end up taking as much money. And we all know the player they want is Tim Tebow of Florida. Think about this: After Tebow's recent showing at his Pro Day, the NFL extended him an invite to attend the draft in New York, which means (at least to me) that some team has assured the NFL it plans to grab the Golden Boy before the first day is over. Otherwise, I doubt they'd risk embarrassing him like that. The Tebow backlash has grown so strong in recent months I've actually started to want to root for him again. Yes, some of the praise he received at Florida was nauseating, but there is something about him that makes you want to pull for him when you talk to him. One of the best quotes I heard at the combine was from the NFL Network's Mike Mayock, who said, essentially, that every draft pick was a gamble. Teams gamble all the time on players who test positive for drugs or beat up their girlfriends, so if you're going to gamble on someone and wager that you can mold them into a player, why not make it someone like Tebow? I'm guessing some team that covets Dez Bryant or Jimmy Clausen agrees to swap their first round pick with Jacksonville. And Tebow and the Jags end up happily ever after -- at least until they have to move the team to LA in two years.

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