Upon completion of the Super Bowl, the page on any NFL season turns faster than heads would turn if you screamed the name Janet Jackson in a crowded hotel lobby (cover your eyes, kids).
Teams can't put 2003 in the rearview mirror fast enough. This week, most teams have their scouts in town for pre-combine draft meetings, which means long days spent trying to stack their board. The scouting combine is next week in Indianapolis, with the draft coming at the end of April.
Atlanta might be eyeing All-American S Sean Taylor. (Getty Images)
The next two months are spent with scouts that have actually done the majority of the work trying to fend off the opinions of the Johnny-come-lately coaches, which makes for much better debates than seeing Howard Dean trying to explain anything.
It's also a time for free-agent evaluations -- the period starts March 3 -- and plenty of we-can't-wait-until-opening-day talk from players, coaches and the fans.
The regular season ended a little over a month ago and the Super Bowl is less than two weeks past, but all anyone wants to talk about is next season.
NFL cardinal rule No. 1: Never, ever, live on what you did a year ago.
So to help look ahead, we offer our first installment of a mock draft. Naturally there will be more to come. We will update after the combine, and then again a few more times before the April 24-25 draft, including the Friday before the first pick is made.
This mock was tough to do since it doesn't factor in free agency. Take the San Diego Chargers. If they get Mark Brunell in a trade from the Jaguars, would they use the top pick on Eli Manning? Not likely. If they don't, they should take Manning, although they may not.
What if the Dolphins get Brunell? They won't need a quarterback, but as of right now they do. So the pick is North Carolina State quarterback Philip Rivers, a player we love. He will be a Pro Bowl passer.
If Brunell heads south in a trade, that will change. Maybe Miami will go receiver in a deep receiver class. Maybe they'll go for an offensive lineman in a so-so lineman class.
For now, we're playing it straight. By the time the draft rolls around, a lot of what follows could change and will be impacted by what happens in free agency as well as combine and pro-day workouts. As of now, it could change if an underclassman or two come out after the Maurice Clarett ruling.
So don't hold this mock as the law. It's just an early peak heading into next week's scouting combine in Indianapolis, the first real step in getting over 2003.
1. San Diego Chargers: Eli Manning, QB, Mississippi. They missed out on Peyton Manning and ended up with Ryan Leaf, and then traded away the chance to get Michael Vick. They can't pass on Manning -- unless they pull off the trade for Brunell.
2. Oakland Raiders: Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Pittsburgh. Al Davis loves big-play receivers, and Fitzgerald is that guy. The one question about him is his speed, but he plays fast. He'll team with Jerry Porter to give Al his deep passing threats.
3. Arizona Cardinals: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Miami of Ohio. The Cardinals have to get a franchise passer. They can't really expect to win with Josh McCown as their starter for the long term, despite what new coach Dennis Green said this week. It has to be a smokescreen for him to say publicly that the Cardinals won't draft a quarterback.
4. New York Giants: Robert Gallery, T, Iowa. As coach of the Jaguars, Tom Coughlin used the second overall pick in 1995 to take Tony Boselli. With the Giants, he might follow suit. GM Ernie Accorsi likes Big 10 players. That's a combination that adds up to Gallery.
5. Washington Redskins: Tommie Harris, DT, Oklahoma. All that talk about adding a back or tight end Kellen Winslow should not overshadow the fact that the Redskins need help in the worst way on the defensive line. You can get backs late -- and maybe in free agency -- but the good big guys have to come in the draft. Harris gets a slight edge over Miami's Vince Wilfork in this spot.
6. Detroit Lions: Kevin Jones, RB, Virginia Tech. Running back has to get strong consideration here since the Lions need that piece to make their triplets complete with Joey Harrington and Charlie Rogers. So, for now, put Jones in this spot, although Steven Jackson of Oregon State could be a factor as we get closer to the draft. Miami safety Sean Taylor is another possibility.
7. Atlanta Falcons: Sean Taylor, S, Miami. This might seem high for a safety, but if a team were to be told they could get Ronnie Lott would they use a pick this high on him? You bet. Taylor has that type of ability. He is big, strong and fast. He will be a better player than the Cowboys' Roy Williams, which is saying something.
8. Cleveland Browns: Kellen Winslow Jr., TE, Miami. Browns coach Butch Davis recruited Winslow to Miami. He won't make the same mistake he did when he passed up Clinton Portis two years ago. Winslow will add another dimension to the offense that features a good group of outside receivers. If tackle Shawn Andrews gets in shape, he will be a consideration.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars: Chris Gamble, CB, Ohio State. They got a good, young corner in last year's draft in Rashean Mathis. Now they take another big-play corner who has plenty of growth potential. They can play a lot of man coverage with that duo. Another possibility is Texas receiver Roy Williams.
10. Houston Texans: Vince Wilfork, DT, Miami. There is some uncertainty surrounding the knee injury that Seth Payne suffered last season. An additional procedure was required, which puts his status in doubt for the start of the 2004 season. Wilfork, if he can keep his weight in check, will be a force for any line that gets him. The Texans can play him at the nose or at their end position in the 3-4 scheme. He has the quickness teams love in a big player.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers: DeAngelo Hall, CB, Virginia Tech. Corner has been a weak spot in the Steelers defense during the past two years, so they have to get an upgrade. Hall can run, which is something the Pittsburgh corners could not do. Look for him to be the second corner off the board in a good corner draft. Oregon State's Jackson is also a strong possibility.
12. New York Jets: Roy Williams, WR, Texas. A year after losing Laveranues Coles to the Redskins, they replace him with Williams. The Jets will be shocked to see Williams here, but if he falls they will eat him up. How could they not? Another possibility would be a speed linebacker, such as Miami's D.J. Williams.
13. Buffalo Bills: Kenechi Udeze, DE, Southern California. He could be higher on this board when the draft rolls around. A speed pass rusher, he has trimmed down from over 350 pounds earlier in his Trojans career. Udeze is a special player who can attack the quarterback, something the Bills badly need.
14. Chicago Bears: Steven Jackson, RB, Oregon State. New offensive coordinator Terry Shea worked on a unit in Kansas City that featured Priest Holmes. Jackson can be that type of back. In a city that craves a big-time runner, Jackson could be that guy.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Shawn Andrews, T, Arkansas. The Tampa Bay offensive line has been bad at right tackle. By getting Andrews, they should put those worries to rest. There are some weight issues that have to be resolved as word is he weighs close to 400 pounds. A receiver is also a possibility.
16. San Francisco 49ers: Michael Clayton, WR, LSU. The 49ers will likely lose Terrell Owens, and the players left on the roster are decent players but they are not No. 1 receivers. Clayton is. He is big and can run, and don't be shocked to see him move even higher on this board as the draft rolls around.
17. Cincinnati Bengals: Will Poole, CB, USC. The Bengals will try and address corner in free agency, but if they don't Poole could be their choice. He is a fast rising player who impressed at the Senior Bowl. If they don't go corner, they could take Miami linebacker Jonathan Vilma or Maryland defensive tackle Randy Starks.
18. New Orleans Saints: D.J. Williams, LB, Miami. This is a team that wants to get faster in the back seven. Williams is a run-and-chase linebacker who would fit in perfectly. They will also give his teammate, middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, a close look. A corner is also a possibility.
19. Minnesota Vikings: Will Smith, DE, Ohio State. They have to get more production from their outside pass rushers. With Kevin Williams now inside at tackle, they need speed off the edge. Smith can provide that.
20. Miami Dolphins: Philip Rivers, QB, North Carolina State. If the Dolphins can't work out a deal for Brunell or another veteran, they might be forced to use their pick on Rivers. That would be a wise move. Rivers has a different throwing motion, but he sees the field and understands the game. The team that gets him will be getting a steal. If they get a veteran quarterback, they could take a receiver.
21. New England Patriots (From Baltimore): Chris Perry, RB, Michigan. When the team didn't pay Antowain Smith a roster bonus this week, it sent a message they will be looking for a back. They may trade their two first-round picks -- this one came in a trade last year -- to move up to get Jackson or Jones. If not, they stand pat and take Perry, a tough inside runner.
22. Dallas Cowboys: Greg Jones, RB, Florida State. They may go the free-agent route for a back, but if not Jones might be their guy. He is a big, powerful runner, which would seem to be to the liking of Bill Parcells. He wants a guy who can control the clock, which Jones should be able to do. His quickness to the hole and his ability to catch passes has to be a little bit of a concern.
23. Seattle Seahawks: Jonathan Vilma, MLB, Miami. They were weak in the middle last year, and Vilma is the type of player who would fit in their defense. He is a smart, heady player who doesn't run as well as his college teammate D.J. Williams, but he makes as many plays.
24. Denver Broncos: Ben Troupe, TE, Florida. With Shannon Sharpe likely to retire, the Broncos need a pass-catching threat in the middle of the field. Troupe can be that kind of player. He is a notch below Winslow, but he's not that far behind.
25. Green Bay Packers: J.P. Losman, QB, Tulane. At some point the Packers have to get their quarterback of the future. Brett Favre can't play forever. Losman is a big-armed passer who will take time to groom. If Favre plays two more years, Losman will be ready to take over after that.
26. St. Louis Rams: Derrick Strait, CB, Oklahoma. They have to get better at corner, and Strait has produced at a high level at a top-notch program. The one knock on him is his speed, but he can answer those questions with a good combine.
27. Tennessee Titans: Randy Starks, DT, Maryland. Carolina's Kris Jenkins became a dominant defensive tackle coming out of Maryland and Starks has that same type of ability. The Titans will be losing Robaire Smith to free agency so look for them to try and plug that hole in the draft.
28. Philadelphia Eagles: Reggie Williams, WR, Washington. Even if the Eagles sign a top free-agent receiver (Terrell Owens?), they still need a young receiver to groom. Williams doesn't run as well as Texas' Roy Williams, but he is close. If he lasts this long, the Eagles will be thrilled.
29. Indianapolis Colts: Darnell Dockett, DT, Florida State. They love the quick, penetrating tackles and Dockett is that type of player. He can be a dominant inside force in the Colts' defensive system. They have to get better on first down, and Dockett might be the guy to do that.
30. Kansas City Chiefs: Karlos Dansby, LB, Auburn. Is there any doubt that this team needs defensive help? Dansby is a speedy linebacker who just might be a better NFL player than college player. At 6-foot-3, 231 pounds, he is an outstanding athlete.
31. Carolina Panthers: Dunta Robinson, CB, South Carolina. They got by this past year playing Reggie Howard and Ricky Manning Jr. Howard is a journeyman at best while Manning Jr. was torched in the Super Bowl. Robinson is a local kid who can start right away.
32. New England Patriots: Vernon Carey, G, Miami. They could lose Damien Woody in free agency and they can't get by with Russ Hochstein and Joe Andruzzi in the long run. Carey has the ability to be a star player inside. Injuries are the only thing that slowed him down. He also can play tackle.