The NFL draft will be wrapping up one month from today, but draft experts and websites have been posting mock drafts since before the college football season ended. But now that the Senior Bowl, East-West Shrine game, and Combine are over and with a number of pro days in the past as well, mocks that are posted now likely give a little bit better idea of who the top players are.
And no matter how well-researched mock drafts are, the people crafting them aren't the ones making picks come April 28-30, but they're usually good for debate. With that in mind, we'll start posting a once-a-week roundup of the predictions from a handful of sites.
Here's the first batch, including the comments accompanying each pick:
Pro Football Weekly, Nolan Nawrocki
17. RB Mark Ingram, Alabama
No one used a multifaceted, three-back approach last season better than Bill Belichick did, but the downside of not having a three-down featured back who does not need to leave the field is that opposing defensive coordinators are often easily tipped off to what is coming. That's not to mention that Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk are 34 years old and Fred Taylor is 35 and all have been injury-prone. Belichick could be comforted knowing that Ingram comes from a well-run NFL program like Nick Saban's. With rules in place to encourage passing, the contrarian Belichick looks to increase running, and there is only one first-round runner in this year's draft.
28. T Nate Solder, Colorado
Owning a boatload of picks to maneuver with, including the 33rd overall selection from the Panthers, it's highly unlikely the Patriots will keep this pick. If Bill Belichick stays put, a future left tackle to replace free-agent OLT Matt Light would address a glaring area of need.
NFL.com, Pat Kirwan
17. T Tyron Smith, USC
Even though Smith played right tackle at USC, he's projected on the left side in the NFL. Sebastian Vollmer is the right tackle in New England, but could even be a better left tackle. Taking Smith here gives the Patriots flexibility. With another pick at No. 28, they could easily trade out there to a team looking for a late first-round quarterback.
28. DT Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple
Wilkerson has the traits coach Bill Belichick looks for in his five-technique defensive ends: Height, bulk, long arms and a sub-5.0 time in the 40-yard dash at 315 pounds. I expect this pick to be traded to a team looking for a quarterback before the first round comes to an end and teams go home for the night to regroup.
33. OLB Justin Houston, Georgia
60. S Quinton Carter, Oklahoma
(This was Kirwan's third mock. In his second, he had the Patriots taking BC's Anthony Castonzo at 17 and Wilkerson at 28. But based on talks he's had with offensive line coaches, he's moved Castonzo up to Detroit at 13.)
National Football Post, Wes Bunting
17. DE Cameron Jordan, Cal
Jordan could fall on draft day a little further than most assume. However, he’s a gifted, versatile athlete who has the ability to quickly pick up complex schemes and would be a great fit in New England.
28. G Danny Watkins, Baylor
He’s a bit older than most prospects, but I don’t see that scaring the Patriots away in round one. He’s a tough, mature kid with a good anchor at the point and sticks to blocks well through contact. Has a little Logan Mankins to his game.
ESPN.com, Mel Kiper (subscription needed)
17. OLB Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
Kerrigan answered a lot of questions about his athleticism in Indy and has shown that he might not be the tweener many believe he is, a player seemingly stuck between a 3-4 OLB and a 4-3 DE. While I don't see him as a guy who'll be dropping back and covering very well early on, Kerrigan is smart and simply has a gift for getting to the quarterback. New England needs a guy like him for all the passes they'll continue to face when up in games. Kerrigan led the nation in tackles for loss last year and shows good leverage against the run to go with his obvious pass-rushing skill set.
28. WR Leonard Hankerson, Miami (Fla.)
There are no questions about Hankerson's hands and his speed is no longer in question. The Patriots have the underneath options, but could use a threat that can stretch defenses and cause matchup problems against smaller corners, and Hankerson provides that. At 6-foot-2 and 209 pounds, he's a physical wideout and creates another option for Tom Brady. The Patriots are a difficult team to project in this draft, because they have so much flexibility with all the picks -- they could target the best player on their board at a number of positions and still address needs all over.
ESPN.com, Todd McShay (subscription needed)
17. DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
If history is any indication the Patriots will make a move with at least one of their two first round picks, but for these purposes let's assume they stay home at Nos. 17 and 28 overall. The front seven is a clear need area and there's plenty of talent to choose from at this point. Watt has the size and skill set to be a very good fit at defensive end in Bill Belichick's version of the 3-4 defense, and putting Watt and a healthy Ty Warren around NT Vince Wilfork would quickly turn the defensive line from a weakness into a strength.
28. DE/OLB Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
After getting Watt earlier in the first round the Patriots would love to see Kerrigan still on the board at this point. He's not athletic enough to play on the outside in every 3-4 scheme but the Patriots like bigger, stronger outside linebackers who can get after the quarterback and Kerrigan has the instincts and motor to thrive in New England's system. The Patriots need to upgrade their pass rush and Kerrigan can do that.
NFLDraftScout.com, Chad Reuter
17. DE Cameron Jordan, Cal
Great fit for the five-technique spot in Bill Belichick's three-man front.
28. G Danny Watkins, Baylor
Watkins could slide into the left tackle spot if Matt Light does not return, play left guard if Logan Mankins holds out again after receiving the franchise tag, or compete with Dan Connolly for the right guard spot as a rookie.
CBSSports.com, Clark Judge
17. G Mike Pouncey, Florida
This is high for him, but consider it insurance against Logan Mankins. Could take an OT, too.
28. OLB Justin Houston, Georgia
Pats could use a WR, too, so Jonathan Baldwin or Torrey Smith always possible, but they need pass rushers.