Anyone can assemble a pretty good mock draft. Match a list of prospects to a basic outline of team needs, write some rationalizations for the selections and wait for the awards and adulation to tumble in.
Anyone can assemble a pretty bad mock draft. Ignore the last week of frenzied free-agent maneuvers, engage your personal Jimmy Garoppolo fetish, stubbornly defend your most contrarian selections and earn congratulations from your superiors for "engaging debate."
No one can assemble a truly great mock draft. A mock draft is a list of guesses. Lock Mike Mayock and Leo Tolstoy in a hotel room for a year, tell them to put together the best list of guesses they probably can and the results would be pretty unexciting.
But it takes a high level of skill and misguidance to set out to create the worst mock draft possible. And that's what Mandatory Monday is doing on this fine post-bracketology Tuesday.
Why write the worst mock draft ever? It's a convenient way to highlight some of last week's free-agent moves. It's a chance to talk about the strengths of teams, instead of harping on their weaknesses, which can be illuminating. And by reshuffling the top prospects, we may get a deeper look at their relative value instead of just playing yenta and matching them to the homeliest, most desperate suitors.
To truly create the worst mock draft ever, we would flood the first round with projected seventh-round picks or kids from the marching band. That would be ridiculous. Teams in this exercise must pick from among the feasible first-round prospects, though they may reach now and then for a well-known Day 2 prospect. At some point, players will just select the best available athlete, particularly if doing so is the worst possible decision. Some teams are so needy, or so stacked, that it is hard to imagine a truly bad pick. Likewise, some prospects are so multitalented and "safe" that they are hard to criticize. In both cases, my goal was to find the worst scenario possible.
Enjoy. And if you tell me in the message board or on Twitter that this is the worst mock draft you have ever seen, I will thank you profusely.
1. Texans: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Texans are needy at many positions but loaded with Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins at wide receiver. Hopkins even gives them a big, multi-dimensional Clemson guy, so Watkins would be completely extraneous. Although with Johnson, Watkins and Hopkins, the Texans could draft Tajh Boyd in the fourth round. Bill O'Brien then emphasizes the wide receiver screens in his offense, adds an option wrinkle and the Texans take the AFC South by storm despite a quarterback who cannot accurately throw downfield! It's called The Bengals Method, and it makes as much or more sense than trading for Ryan Mallett.
2. Rams: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
The Rams could conceivably draft a quarterback as a potential escape plan from the Sam Bradford injury-and-upside treadmill. But they won't do it with the first of two first-round picks. And they won't select Bortles, a talented tinker-toy quarterback in need of serious fine-tuning. The Bradford-Bortles battle has a fine alliterative ring to it, but the potential for a double knockout is too great.
3. Jaguars: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
The Jaguars have too many needs to make a truly awful pick, try as they might. And Mack is too multidimensional to be a bad fit anywhere. Gus Bradley could see him as the Bobby Wagner or Malcolm Smith in his grand Seahawks of the South scheme. Place Mack behind new arrivals Red Bryant and Chris Clemons, and the Jaguars will only be nine or 10 players away from a full Seahawks makeover.
Mack fits here because a small-school linebacker landing in Jacksonville feels a lot like a raindrop landing in the bottom of a well. Also: Have you ever noticed that every Jaguars mock draft asserts that they will pick a player to help sell tickets, yet the Jaguars go out of their way to draft players who will not help sell tickets in the first round? Did Luke Joeckel or Tyson Alualu light up the switchboards at Jaguars headquarters? Mack gives Jaguars fans someone to get moderately lukewarm about.
4. Browns: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Browns are needy in many places but very strong at both tackle spots. Greg Robinson could play guard and learn the trade from Jake Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz -- runs between the tackles would be fun to watch -- so let's opt for Matthews instead. A natural left tackle who is ready to play, Matthews would sit the bench behind only a dozen or so NFL linemen. Joe Thomas is one of those linemen.
5. Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Greg Robinson was a lock for this selection until the Rodger Saffold signing fell through. That's right folks: The Raiders are so bad that they can screw up a purposely bad mock draft!
The Raiders have signed Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith, LaMarr Woodley and possibly some other over-the-hill front-seven defender that I missed. Far be it from anyone to suggest that these veterans, who have 26 years of experience and three Super Bowl rings among them, may be professionally sated and seeing the desperate, cash-flush Raiders as a final payday. But if that is the case, Clowney would be the perfect prospect to absorb the secrets of just doing enough to scrape by.
Assuming the Tuck Trio still brings A-level motivation, Clowney gets to be like the kid who spends the summer with grandma and grandpa in the Scottsdale retirement community. While his peers cavort at summer camp, he hits the early bird specials, takes the golf cart to the mailbox and learns to leave the pool at 11 a.m., when it starts to get hot. Instead of missing practices or combine drills for pulled muscles, Clowney's lumbago will act up. But at least he will be full of stories of how scary the 2014 Raiders defense would have been in the good old days, like 2010, when Tuck, Smith and Woodley could still play.
6. Falcons: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Falcons are one of the few teams in the top 10 who would derive zero benefit from a ready-to-play-immediately quarterback prospect.
7. Buccaneers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
When it comes to cornerbacks, Lovie Smith is like the dude in the beret at the organic farmer's market. He can be a little fussy. Darrelle Revis? No, not with that precise skill set at that exorbitant price. Could you import some Alterraun Verner for me? Verner and Johnthan Banks stack the Bucs at cornerback. Dennard would help; after all, a cornerback of his talents can always help. But we could say the same about Revis.
8. Vikings: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Robinson, Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt star in the indie drama Three Pass Protectors in Search of Something Worth Protecting.
9. Bills: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
A Manziel-EJ Manuel prospect duel sounds like a lose-lose situation if ever there was one. More troublesome is Buffalo's weather and nonexistent social scene, which could have a negative effect on our favorite young bon vivant. Remember The Shining? Here's Johnny.
10. Lions: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Lions just re-signed Brandon Pettigrew for crazy Monopoly money. The only person happier for the deal than Pettigrew and his agent was Jimmy Graham, who now knows exactly what dollar value he wants to double once he soaks the franchise tag off in 2015, or 2016, or minutes before the sun burns out, or whenever.
The Lions also have Joseph Fauria, an exciting young all-purpose tight end, the kind of player who makes it easy to say farewell to a veteran tight end with unrealistic salary expectations. But the Lions decided to meet those expectations instead. Hey, Jim Caldwell loves two-tight end sets! So let's add Ebron to the mix. Caldwell can innovate the triple-stack tight end formation left, with Calvin Johnson to the right and new receiver Golden Tate wondering why the team signed him. Matthew Stafford won't know who to sidearm his passes to. And the Lions can lose 35-28 each week, because they have no secondary.
11. Titans: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Let's get more weapons for Jake Locker! After that, let's use some $100 bills to light scented candles!
12. Giants: Ha Ha Clinton Dix, S, Alabama
The Giants re-signed Stevie Brown, Will Hill is an up-and-comer and Antrel Rolle is half as good as he thinks he is, which makes him pretty darn good. It's the one position on the field where the Giants don't need an immediate upgrade. So let's give them one.
13. Rams: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Ford, Robert Quinn and Chris Long trip over each other trying to get their 10th sack of the game. Then the Rams lose 7-0 because Sam Bradford's (or Blake Bortles') 23rd pass of the game to Tavon Austin in the flat becomes a pick-six.
14. Bears: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
You can never have too many king-sized possession receivers. Actually, you can have Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. That's exactly enough. Especially when your run defense turned into a police escort for opposing running backs last year. The Bears signed Domenik Hixon, a quick, hardworking depth receiver and special-teamer, so Benjamin would be even more unnecessary.
15. Steelers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
With Troy Polamalu and new arrival Mike Mitchell, the Steelers have a hall of famer at one safety position and new arrival Mike Mitchell at the other. Yes, that was a dig at Mitchell, a mistake-prone, open-field defender coming off a charmed season with a great Panthers defense. Mitchell may learn from Polamalu or thrive in a scheme where he rarely draws the tough assignments. Either way, the Steelers have little use for Pryor.
16. Cowboys: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Jerry Jones now knows more about the anatomy of knees than everyone else. He also knows that you can never have too much depth at offensive tackle, even if your defense is terrible and just lost its two best players.
17. Ravens: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
"Ozzie Newsome drafts an Alabama guy to replace Ray Lewis" could be the next "Jaguars draft a guy who can sell tickets." The Ravens sensed a need to replace both Lewis and Anquan Boldin, which is why they gave a three-year contract to Steve Smith, who craftily catches short passes like Boldin but rants and raves like Lewis.
18. Jets: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Rex Ryan would totally do this in an effort to win all future games 2-0 … or perhaps 4-2, with the Jets defense scoring two safeties to compensate for Geno Smith intentionally grounding the ball in the end zone once per week. But John Idzik is in charge, and he will insist that the Jets avoid developmental mega-talents on the defensive front seven until the offense scores points on two consecutive drives. Safeties don't count.
19. Dolphins: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Dolphins have had a productive offseason so far. Wow, my hard drive crashed the moment I typed that!
Brent Grimes and Cortland Finnegan make a still-capable, if aging, and expensive cornerback tandem, and the Dolphins had money to spend and young depth behind the pair. Randy Starks is back, and Earl Mitchell is a worthy replacement for Paul Soliai; in the past, the Dolphins would have lost both defenders in their quest to acquire both Knowshon Moreno and Brandon Spikes at premium prices. Brandon Albert and Shelley Smith address the offensive line crisis prudently, and the team got a little something for Jonathan Martin, to say nothing of a quick-and-quiet escape plan from the saga. This new general manager, Notjeff Nonireland, seems to know what he is doing!
Since defensive tackle is a well-stocked position and the offensive line still needs a few bodies, let's give the Dolphins a defensive tackle. They clearly prefer huge space eaters in the middle, so let's give them the best "small" tackle prospect to come around in years. Donald is too good to be totally useless, but he is a bad fit. The last general manager would have traded up for him.
20. Cardinals: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Not a terrible pick, though Jared Veldheer solves the Cardinals' left tackle problem, Eric Winston could easily be re-signed at right tackle and Jonathan Cooper's return should tighten up the interior line.
21. Packers: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
One of the Packers' most pressing needs is a backup quarterback who can contribute right away. Mettenberger is a long-term prospect (which the Packers do not need) who will either be too injured or too rusty to help a team in 2014.
22. Eagles: David Yankey, G, Stanford
The Eagles juiced up their offense and return game by acquiring Darren Sproles, and they insulated themselves from an offensive letdown by retaining Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin. Despite Malcolm Jenkins' arrival, they still need a second safety, and they should be fishing for upgrades at cornerback and the pass-rush positions. So let's give them the closest thing we can find to Danny Watkins without setting a fire in the Canadian prairie.
23. Chiefs: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
More pass rushers for the team swimming in pass rushers that lost its entire offensive line in free agency and uses the Mayan calendar to time its receivers in the 40-yard dash! For extra credit, Ealy is a natural 4-3 defensive end for a team that uses exotic 1-4-6 personnel groupings whenever possible. While subtle, this may be the best worst pick of this entire exercise.
24. Bengals: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
A replacement for Michael Johnson? Not really: Barr is more of an all-purpose 3-4 outside linebacker. Oh, a multi-purpose linebacker, then. Perhaps, but the Bengals have solid depth at that position. Also, they have only one tackle, left or right, listed on their entire depth chart (Andre Smith) and this is a deep tackle draft. So yes, this would be a terrible pick, despite the fact Barr is a solid value in this spot.
25. Chargers: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
The Chargers grabbed Donald Brown in free agency to back up Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead. That is some serious running back depth. Say, did the Chargers notice that Shareece Wright and Steve Williams will be their starting cornerbacks if Richard Marshall leaves? And that their pass defense was terrible last season? Maybe Woodhead can play defensive back -- those Belichick guys are known for their versatility. Anyway, Hyde gives the Chargers the wishbone offense Philip Rivers has secretly wanted to run all these years.
26. Browns: Kyle Van Noy, OLB Brigham Young
The Browns traditionally use their second first-round pick on a quarterback, ensuring that they get a prospect just promising enough to invest resources and hopes in but not good enough to supplant the journeyman who is supposed to mentor him. In other words, it is hard to select a worse fit for the Browns than Derek Carr, the player the team would most likely grab if the draft played out this way. But Van Noy is perfect: a better prospect than Carr and a special talent, but a player at a position already loaded with Paul Kruger, Barkevious Mingo and Jabaal Sheard. Mike Pettine could find a way to get all four defenders on the field effectively, but it might involve playing one of them at quarterback.
27. Saints: Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
Just what the Saints need: a backup for Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro. What they really need is a new way to alienate their best offensive players. Franchising Jimmy Graham and trading Darren Sproles for bottle caps were clever, but why not just draft a garden shovel and bludgeon Drew Brees over the head with it?
28. Panthers: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
At press time, Marvin McNutt and Tavarres King were Cam Newton's top two wide receivers, though James Jones was making eyes at the Panthers. It's as if an ESPN daytime programming director has taken control of the Panthers and wants to guarantee a vicious Newton slump that can be turned into six weeks of highly profitable character assassination ("But all of his receivers are gone!" "Maybe that's because he is so selfish that they didn't want to play with him anymore!"). The Panthers have also suffered losses in the secondary. So it is our job to increase their depth at defensive tackle.
29. Patriots: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
To be fair, with Gilbert as the fourth cornerback behind Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Alfonzo Dennard, Patriots-Jets games would be high comedy. Rex Ryan would punt on first down.
30. 49ers: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
The Niners can practically do no wrong, though doubling down on offensive line backups named "Martin" only makes their depth chart more confusing.
31. Broncos: Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
The team that needs help right away -- even after signing Aqib Talib, Emmanuel Sanders and DeMarcus Ware, they can still use every drop of "help right away" -- selects a player whose injuries may prevent him from making an immediate impact. Easley, who has John Randle talent but slug nickel knees, would be a great second-round selection for a talent-hungry rebuilding team. In keeping with the spirit of this mock draft, we had to make sure that did not happen.
32. Seahawks: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
This exercise illustrates just how deep this draft is. There are still plenty of players on the board who could help the mighty Seahawks right away. If UCLA guard Xavier Su'a-Filo is on the board at No. 32, Seahawks fans will do cartwheels: The interior line needs a beef-up, and the Seahawks can splurge at a position like guard because they are the Seahawks. Odell Beckham and Marqise Lee are on the board, and Russell Wilson could use more weapons. Assuming the MRI machine cried real tears when Jermichael Finley entered the room, tight ends Jace Amaro and Austin Seferian-Jenkins could provide two different flavors of upgrade.
So what do we give the team that has nearly everything? Something they famously prefer not to use: a tiny cornerback. Verrett could help in a slot role, but giving him to the Seahawks is like giving Katy Perry tickets to your buddy who just came back from South By Southwest.
And thus concludes the first round of the worst mock draft ever. What happens next? In keeping with the theme, the Texans wake up on Friday morning with the sudden urge to trade the first pick of the second round for Ryan Mallett.