The NFL draft heads to Chicago this year, with the top overall choice in our mock draft not planning to be on hand. No matter: Tampa Bay will already have let its selection know when the crowd in the Windy City gets, uh, wind of the pick.
Barring trades, a mock look at Thursday night’s first round:
1. Tampa Bay (2-14): Player character and behavior should be even more of a deciding issue in this year’s draft. The Bucs, desperate for a quarterback, say they are convinced the guy they choose is not a bad apple and is a great prospect.
Jameis Winston, QB Florida State
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2. Tennessee Titans (2-14): Do the Titans also go QB, or pull the trigger on a trade with someone eager to move up to get one? Hard to believe they see sixth-rounder Zach Mettenberger as the real deal, but they also love this crop’s top defensive player, Leonard Williams. Barring a deal …
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13): The Jaguars are going defense no matter who goes in the first two slots.
Leonard Williams, DE-DT, Southern California
4. Oakland Raiders (3-13): Al Davis would be proud of the folks now running his team if they select a breakaway threat receiver – exactly what he would have done.
Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
5. Washington Redskins (4-12): Like Jacksonville, the Redskins are thinking defense, defense, defense.
Dante Fowler Jr., LB, Florida
6. New York Jets (4-12): Did we mention that many teams at the top of these proceedings are eager to bolster their defense? And will we mention it again? Uh, yeah.
Vic Beasley, LB, Clemson
7. Chicago Bears (5-11): Trading Brandon Marshall to the Jets opened the door for one of the college wideouts to blow into Chicago and start. Receiver is a deep position in this draft, and the Bears bite immediately.
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
8. Atlanta Falcons (6-10): Yes, we’re beginning to sound repetitive on this, but defense is the focal point again. The Falcons can score, but they allowed 417 points last season.
Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
9. New York Giants (6-10): Eli Manning needs time to find his strong corps of receivers, especially Offensive Rookie of the Year Odell Beckham Jr. Eli isn’t one to plead for a solid blocker, but he’ll get the best one, a former teammate of Beckham.
La’el Collins, OT, LSU
10. St. Louis Rams (6-10): Another team on the prowl for behemoths in the trenches. There are several enticing prospects even with Collins gone, and the Rams find one.
Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
11. Minnesota Vikings (7-9): The first DB flies off the board.
Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
12. Cleveland Browns (7-9): One of their two first-rounders, the Browns could package to move up. But if they stay put, they can get an impact player to help their rushing defense.
Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
13. New Orleans Saints (7-9): Outside linebacker Randy Gregory has tested positive for marijuana; Kentucky’s Bud Dupree has a solid rep. Not an easy decision in the Big Easy.
Randy Gregory, LB, Nebraska
14. Miami Dolphins (8-8): Pretty strong need here for a wideout with deep speed, but there are plenty of those in this crop. So the Dolphins wait for the second round to address that area, and go for another O-line building block.
Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
15. San Francisco 49ers (8-8): At some point, the Niners will take a linebacker (or two) and a wideout (or two). For now, they can help themselves on the defensive line, which could use some bulking up.
Arik Armstead, DT, Oregon
16. Houston Texans (9-7): The huge hole in the receiving corps, if not in the locker room itself, gets filled by the top remaining wideout.
Devante Parker, WR, Louisville
17. San Diego Chargers (9-7): Tempted to take an RB here, the Chargers also could trade down and still get one. If they stay put, the O-line has needs better addressed at this spot.
Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami, Fla.
18. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7): A wideout makes sense here and Parker would have fit nicely. He’s gone, so the Chiefs mull taking a blocker, but then remember they had zero – yep, zero – TD catches from wide receivers last year.
Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
19. Cleveland Browns (from Buffalo Bills) (7-9): Having filled a big need with Shelton, the Browns look to replace Josh Gordon; does anyone expect his future to be in Cleveland if he returns to the NFL?
Breshad Perriman, WR, UCF
20. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): If you think the first 19 picks were tricky, well, no one has a clue what Chip Kelly might do.
Landon Collins, S, Alabama
21. Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1): Either line would make sense, as would linebacker. The choice could come down to the higher-rated guy in the trenches.
Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
22. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5): The Steel Curtain is a bit tattered, with holes in a lot of places. That’s blasphemy in Pittsburgh, so the Steelers plug one of those chasms immediately.
Jalen Collins, CB, LSU
23. Detroit Lions (11-5): Both incumbent DTs are gone, saving the Lions a ton of money, but leaving them without much proven tonnage inside. They work immediately to help replace Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.
Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
24. Arizona Cardinals (11-5): Boosting the running game as QBs Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton work their way back from injuries is a starting point.
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
25. Carolina Panthers (7-8-1): Someone on the offensive line is headed for Charlotte. The Panthers have several options here, and will go for versatility and a proven winner.
Cameron Erving, OL, Florida State
26. Baltimore Ravens (10-6): Guys who catch the ball and guys who prevent receptions are needed in Baltimore.
Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest
27. Dallas Cowboys (12-4): Had Gurley been on the board, Dallas would have dived in. There is plenty of RB talent available in later rounds, so defense is the word once more.
Shaq Thompson, L, Washington
28. Denver Broncos (12-4): Peyton Manning’s late-season injury and the impact it had on the Broncos means finding someone to help keep him upright is paramount.
T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pittsburgh
29. Indianapolis Colts (11-5): Manning’s former team also could use improvement on the offensive line, and needs to address the secondary. The best remaining prospect is a blocker, so …
D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida
30. Green Bay Packers (12-4): The Packers need to target linebacker so they don’t have to move Clay Matthews inside like they did last season. Several good ones remain, but the only true inside backer is …
Bernardrick McKinney, ILB, Miss. State
31. New Orleans Saints (from Seattle Seahawks) (7-9): If the Saints stay put here, they’ll stick with the defensive philosophy and tag a brilliant athlete who has risen up the draft boards this offseason.
Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut
32. New England Patriots (12-4): And if the Patriots stay put here, they also will address the secondary after losing Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Bill Belichick doesn’t seem to mind players with character issues.
Marcus Peters, CB, Washington