Mock Draft No. 2
How first round shapes up before Scouting Combine

Posted: Friday February 17, 2006 1:55PM; Updated: Friday February 17, 2006 3:24PM

Combine Fever. Catch it. The NFL's annual meat market won't commence in Indianapolis until the middle of next week, but why wait that long to dive back into everybody's favorite offseason guessing game: mocking out the first round of the NFL Draft, which looms a mere 10 weeks away?

In this, our second mock attempt, we've got prospects such as Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler and Texas defensive back Michael Huff on the rise, while Longhorns quarterback Vince Young, Virginia offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Alabama linebacker DeMeco Ryans have slipped a notch or three on our board.

But no worries. There's still plenty of time for all of that to change again and again. And again. For now, it's on to Indy, where draft-season legacies usually begin to take shape:

1 TEXANS RB Reggie Bush USC Jr. 6-0 200
David Carr contract option or not, we're not taking the bait. The Texans aren't going for hometown hero Vince Young in this slot. They either sit tight and select the draft's biggest game-breaker, or they trade down for a Bush-el of picks.

2 SAINTS QB Matt Leinart USC Sr. 6-5 225
The USC lefty is a smooth and polished pro-in-waiting, both on and off the field. After listening to him say all the right things at a Super Bowl news conference, I'm convinced he's the kind of solid guy the Saints will want to rebuild around.

3 TITANS QB Jay Cutler Vanderbilt Sr. 6-4 228
I had Vince Young going to the Titans in this slot in my first mock draft, but that was then, this is now. Cutler is the quarterback with the hottest buzz heading into the Scouting Combine, and we think the Titans love the kid from their own backyard.

4 JETS QB Vince Young Texas Jr. 6-5 235
Do the Jets, with their obvious need at quarterback given Chad Pennington's iffy shoulder, make Young the next big thing in the Big Apple, answering Eli-mania in New York? Or will the new management tandem of Mike Tannebaum and Eric Mangini shop the pick to a Young-hungry team, thereby maximizing the value of the slot?

5 PACKERS DE Mario Williams N.C. State Jr. 6-7 285
If it comes down to a choice between the draft's top-ranked defensive end (Williams) or its most highly regarded offensive tackle (Virginia's D'Brickashaw Ferguson), the book says you go with the pass rusher. Nearly every time.

6 RAIDERS OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson Virginia Sr. 6-5 295
Fair is fair. In my first mock, I had the Raiders winning a coin flip that hasn't occurred yet with the ***** and picking sixth. But this time it comes up heads for San Francisco, which needs defensive help but can't pass on a talent who could protect franchise quarterback Alex Smith's blindside for the next 10 years.

7 ***** LB A.J. Hawk Ohio State Sr. 6-1 240
New/old head coach Art Shell is going to get something of a crash refresher course in collegiate personnel at the Combine. The Raiders' crying need is on defense, and Ohio State's Hawk looks like the cleanest player on the board on that side of the ball. Oakland would do handstands if Williams slipped past No. 5 Green Bay.

8 BILLS DB Michael Huff Texas Sr. 6-1 205
The Bills are getting a little old on defense, and they have some cap issues to sort through in the weeks ahead. Huff is a versatile talent whose stock is on the rise as the Combine nears. If veteran safety Lawyer Milloy ends up being one of Buffalo's cap cuts, Huff could fill the bill.

9 LIONS DT Haloti Ngata Oregon Jr. 6-5 345
True, drafting a nose tackle so high isn't too sexy. But the Lions tried sexy the past four years -- taking three receivers, a running back and a quarterback in the first round -- with limited results. Dan Wilkinson will be 33 next month, and we already know what new coach Rod Marinelli did in Tampa with a quality DT at his disposal.

10 CARDINALS RB DeAngelo Williams Memphis Sr. 5-10 217
With Kurt Warner locked up for another three years, Cardinals head coach Dennis Green has once again tipped his hand that quarterback won't get first-round attention. And if Arizona can land Edgerrin James or Shaun Alexander, neither will running back. But until then, the elusive Williams gets the nod.

11 RAMS TE Vernon Davis Maryland Jr. 6-3 250
St. Louis could use some help in the secondary, so Virginia Tech cornerback Jimmy Williams makes sense, too. But this is the Rams we're talking about, and new head coach Scott Linehan loves offense. In this age of Antonio Gates, Davis is the kind of exceptional athlete everybody wants at tight end.

12 BROWNS LB Chad Greenway Iowa Sr. 6-4 244
The Browns could reach a bit for a pass-rushing defensive end such as Mathias Kiwanuka of Boston College or Tamba Hali of Penn State if their rankings come close to No. 12 value. But with linebackers being so key to Romeo Crennel's 3-4 defense, Greenway is the chalk pick with Hawk already gone at No. 7.

13 RAVENS DE Tamba Hali Penn State Sr. 6-3 267
The Ravens could be tempted to replace running back Jamal Lewis with a younger, more explosive version, USC's LenDale White. But the bigger need appears to be on defense, where the Ravens are starting to show their age. Hali is a bit small at 6-foot-3, 267, but he's an impact pass rusher, and those don't grow on trees.

14 EAGLES WR Santonio Holmes Ohio State Jr. 5-11 190
I'm forgetting his name at the moment, but the Eagles had a No. 1 receiver for part of last season and then lost his services somehow, some way. Holmes is the only surefire first-round receiver, and his value in this slot is too great to ignore. As a bonus, his initials can't be used as a catchy nickname (S.H.?).

15 FALCONS CB Jimmy Williams Virginia Tech Sr. 6-3 216
Sure, why wouldn't the Falcons add another first-rounder from the Hokies? With Williams and DeAngelo Hall, Atlanta would have itself a solid cornerback tandem for many seasons to come.

16 DOLPHINS OT Winston Justice USC Jr. 6-6 300
The Dolphins would love to build an offensive line in front of Ronnie Brown/Ricky Williams that's capable of dominating the line of scrimmage when those cold-weather AFC East games at New England, Buffalo and the Jets come up late in the season. But with the Dolphins needing quarterback help, they may try to move way up for Jay Cutler.

17 VIKINGS RB LenDale White USC Jr. 6-2 235
By draft day, White could be headed for a slot far loftier than middle-of-the-pack status in the first round. But if he gets by No. 10 Arizona, No. 13 Baltimore and No. 14 Philadelphia, the Vikings might just have him tumble into their laps. You can bet Minnesota won't delay in turning its card in this time.

18 COWBOYS S Ko Simpson South Carolina Jr. 6-1 201
Among the Cowboys' needs is a free safety with a nose for the football. Otherwise Washington's Santana Moss is just going to keep beating them deep. If Winston Justice is still on the board, he'd be another name to know. As would receiver Santonio Holmes, because Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn aren't kids any more.

19 CHARGERS LB DeMeco Ryans Alabama Sr. 6-5 230
Ryans has slipped out of the top 10 into the second 10 after an only decent Senior Bowl showing. But he's an instinctive player who finds ways to disrupt an offense. The Chargers also would love to fortify their secondary, so Jimmy Williams or Simpson, should they linger, would more than suffice.

20 CHIEFS CB Ashton Youboty Ohio State Jr. 6-2 189
The run on defensive talent continues, with the always needy Chiefs taking the next best available prospect. Depending on what the Cowboys and Chargers do right above them, the Chiefs could be in position to take Youboty, Jimmy Williams, Simpson or Clemson CB Tye Hill. Any of them would make K.C.'s last line of defense instantly better.

21 PATRIOTS RB Laurence Maroney Minnesota Jr. 5-11 205
What in the world are the Pats doing picking in the 20s? Isn't it a league rule they have to choose 32nd? With Corey Dillon's drop in production in 2005, New England at least has to be thinking about taking a future No. 1 back. Safety is another area of need with Rodney Harrison's age and injury situation.

22 BRONCOS DE Mathias Kiwanuka Boston College Sr. 6-7 262
The Broncos' defense needs somebody who can rush the passer and create a little havoc in the opposing backfield. Kiwanuka's skills in that department aren't as well developed as some would like, but he's a first-round talent with great value in this slot. Arizona State receiver Derek Hagan could be Plan B for the first of Denver's two No. 1s.

23 BUCCANEERS OT Marcus McNeil Auburn Sr. 6-9 338
The Bucs could use a legitimate No. 1 receiver to take over for Joey Galloway in the near future, so it wouldn't be surprising to see them jump on Arizona State's Derek Hagan. But with Anthony Davis and the disappointing Kenyatta Walker at offensive tackle, McNeil, perhaps the draft's best run blocker, is a solid bet. And he's already blocked for Cadillac Williams before, at Auburn.

24 BENGALS DT Brodrick Bunkley Florida State Sr. 6-3 284
This one isn't exactly brain surgery. The Bengals need to upgrade on run defense if they're to take a step up from playoff qualifier to playoff winner. John Thornton and Bryan Robinson are just so-so in the middle of the Cincy D-line. Bunkley or LSU defensive tackle Claude Wroten are the likely prospects.

25 GIANTS LB Thomas Howard UTEP Sr. 6-3 240
After watching their linebackers get wiped out by injury late in the season, the Giants have a lot of decent options in this slot. The linebacking trio of Howard, Florida State's Ernie Sims and Ohio State's Bobby Carpenter all could be available, as could an intriguing cornerback prospect -- Florida State's Antonio Cromartie -- who would fill another need.

26 BEARS TE Leonard Pope Georgia Jr. 6-7 250
Every early indicator points to the Bears thinking tight end with this pick, because we know their defense doesn't need any first-round attention this year. But which tight end will it be, the 6-foot-7, 250-pound Pope, who can catch and block, or one of the two prospects from the Pac-10, USC's Dominique Byrd or UCLA's Marcedes Lewis?

27 PANTHERS TE Dominique Byrd USC Sr. 6-3 260
Like the Bears, the Panthers need a pass-catching tight end to help ease the load on all-world receiver Steve Smith. Marcedes Lewis and Notre Dame's Anthony Fasano are two other tight end options. But Carolina also could be thinking running back (Minnesota's Laurence Maroney), defensive tackle (LSU's Claude Wroten) or offensive tackle (Miami's Eric Winston).

28 JAGUARS CB Antonio Cromartie Florida State Jr. 6-3 200
If the surgically repaired knee that caused him to miss the entire 2005 season checks out healthy at the Scouting Combine, Cromartie could shoot up on a few teams' boards as the draft nears. The Jaguars have Kenny Wright and Terry Cousin opposite CB Rashean Mathis, and that's not enough. Clemson CB Tye Hill or a speed rusher to pair with DE Reggie Hayward also are options.

29 BRONCOS WR Sinorice Moss Miami Sr. 5-8 185
If the Broncos don't wind up signing Terrell Owens, selecting the NFL's latest receiver named Moss could help take up the slack. Even though Denver liked what it saw of Gerard Warren and Michael Myers inside in 2005, getting more help at defensive tackle (LSU's Claude Wroten or Michigan's Gabe Wilson) is another option.

30 COLTS LB Ernie Sims Florida State Jr. 6-0 220
In a perfect world, the Colts find a running back with a first-round grade sitting there waiting for them, thereby replacing the going, going, gone Edgerrin James. But once Bush, Williams, White and Maroney are taken, running back may no longer hold first-round value. Thus, Sims fills another need for the Colts.

31 SEAHAWKS WR Chad Jackson Florida Jr. 6-1 205
Some teams may be scared off by the legacy of Gators receivers in the NFL, but things have worked out just fine for Seattle with Darrell Jackson. Defensive end and linebacker are two other positions of need for the defending NFC champions.

32 STEELERS LB Bobby Carpenter Ohio State Sr. 6-3 255
The Steelers could be thinking receiver if they lose Antwaan Randle El in free agency, as expected. But if not, they love to stockpile those versatile linebackers who can handle both inside and outside duty in their 3-4 defensive formation.