Though a few pioneers like to put out mock drafts in the fall, while the season is still going and before any sort of draft order is even determined, the fun really begins in January. Now that at least the first 20 picks are locked in for the first round, and the remaining 12 are nearly set, it's time for NFL draft analysts everywhere to come out with their mocks, Version 1.0.
Kiper did that on ESPN last Wednesday with his early predictions for the top 10 picks, giving the mock season an unofficial kickoff. As such, it's time for us on Buccaneers.com to start paying attention to what the outside experts are saying.
And, for now at least, those experts mostly think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in the market for a pass rusher.
That was the opinion Kiper shared on ESPN at noon on Wednesday, matching the Buccaneers up with Khalil Mack, the pass-rushing linebacker from the University of Buffalo. (Kiper's Mock Draft 1.0 is also on ESPN.com, but it's behind a subscription wall.) Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com is currently operating under the same theory, making the Bucs-Mack connection on his January 14 mock.
A complicating factor, and an issue that is likely going to remain a key storyline for the Buccaneers even as certain players rise and fall on the draft boards, is the Atlanta Falcons being situated at pick #6. Draft analysts currently see the Falcons looking for a pass-rusher, too, which puts the two teams in the NFC South in (hypothetical) competition for some of the same players.
There are three other analysts on NFL.com who have joined Jeremiah in posting first-round mocks so far, and at least here you find a little variety for the Buccaneers' number-seven pick. While Charles Davis agrees with the Bucs-Mack matchup (with Barr going one pick earlier to Atlanta), Matt Smith thinks the Bucs need a receiver like Clemson's Sammy Watkins to open up the offense and Bucky Brooks slides Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews into the Bucs' spot. Brooks says Matthews would "complete a physically imposing offensive line," though it's not immediately obvious where the Bucs would play him with tackles
CBSSports.com posts mock drafts each year from two analysts: Rob Rang and Dane Brugler. At the moment, Rang agrees with the Sammy Watkins idea at #7, and specifically thinks Watkins would be a good fit for Jeff Tedford's offense. Brugler goes with the majority and gives Mack to the Bucs at seven.
Walter Football's Charlie Campbell updated his mock draft last Friday and changed his Buccaneer prediction. Previously giving Tampa Bay Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy, Campbell now sees the team addressing the other side of the line of scrimmage with Auburn tackle Greg Robinson. Both players seem to be early risers in the various mock drafts.
Like Campbell, most of the NFL analysts linked above will update their picks multiple times between now and the draft, and they have a few extra weeks to do so with the first round moved back to May 8. Many more voices will join the conversation, too, as Mock Draft Season develops. We'll keep an eye on the various mocks throughout the winter and spring here on Buccaneers.com to see how the popular opinion changes over the weeks…and eventually how well it matches up with reality on draft weekend.