The 2012 rookie class has yet to play a snap of even exhibition football and already the 2013 draft process is underway. While things will change significantly between now and next April (it wasn’t that long ago that Vontaze Burfict was considered a possible 1st rounder and Dontari Poe was a mid-round sleeper). However, college football and NFL draft junkies are always on the lookout for the next big riser, sleeper prospect or possibly the 2013 equivalent of Burfict. Here are a few guys who should be monitored closely over the next 11 months:
Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA – Nephew of former NFL (Patriots, Seahawks) TE Christian Fauria, he has the size and athleticism that scouts drool over. While 2012 seemed to be a year where a lot of teams reached in the draft in the hopes of having their own Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez type tandem, Fauria could be the real deal. For a guy in excess of 6’7 250+ lbs, he can out-jump many DB’s and has deceptive playing speed – even if he doesn’t time particularly well in the 40 yard dash. The big knock on Fauria, and what could affect his stock more than anything, is that he is very raw as both a blocker and a route runner. He’s probably somewhere between where Graham (very raw) and Gronkowski (more polished) were when they came out. If he can develop these skills or if a coach falls in love with his physical attributes, he could go in the late 1st round.
Mark Jackson, OT, Glenville State – He’s huge and has the type of footwork and surprising nimbleness which tends to get O-Linemen drafted very early in the NFL. For a guy at such a tiny school (though he is a transfer from Illinois), his technique is better than expected. In fact, Jackson’s fundamentals might be better than all but a few of the elite bigger school guys. He projects to be a punishing run blocker who can fire out of his stance and take on edge rushers at the NFL level. He’s a mid-rounder on a lot of boards already, and with a good year and offseason could work his way into top 50 contention.
Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinios – As of now, Buchanan is probably an early 2nd round prospect who I’ve seen listed in the 1st round of some mock drafts. Like his former teammate Whitney Mercilus, I don’t see what the fuss is about. He has a nice frame (listed 6’6 240 and the type of frame which could easily bulk up 20 lbs) and has been productive but on tape he looks fairly pedestrian. The Illinois defensive scheme and the amount of attention offenses paid Mercilus gave Buchanan a lot of opportunities to make plays. However, he looks more like a guy who will take what is there rather than being able to create plays on his own. While he has a nice frame, he doesn’t play with violence or power and doesn’t have the athleticism to consistently beat quality OL. He doesn’t look to be an impact player and could be in for a fall if offenses are able to contain him more easily with Mercilus now playing on Sundays. That said, a productive year in the attacking Illini defense could get him drafted in the same range as his former teammate.
This is the 2nd of 8 divisional wrap ups. You can find the AFC East here:
Indianapolis Colts – There was no where to go but up for Indianapolis and obviously their draft hinges on the arm of Andrew Luck. If he flops, it won’t matter how good the rest of the class is – the 2012 draft will forever be remembered as the “Luck draft”. To go along with their brand new signal caller, the Colts added Luck’s college TE Coby Fleener who will remind Indianapolis fans of the recently departed Dallas Clark with his ability to get yards over the middle. The pair of Dwayne Allen and T.Y. Hilton potentially gives Luck other weapons, though I’m not a fan of Hilton’s – frail looking WR’s with ball security problems don’t often turn out well in the pros. Snagging Vick Ballard and Josh Chapman in the 5th seems like good value, with Chapman possibly being the anchor that Chuck Pagano needs if he goes with a 3-4 defense. Not adding more talent on the defensive side was a bit curious, though it makes sense that the Colts would spend their first rebuilding year trying to make Luck as comfortable as possible. Undrafted DB Michah Pellerin could pay off, as the small school sleeper was a guy I thought could have gone as early as the late 4th or early 5th.
Houston Texans – For a team that has drafted fairly well lately, their draft this year left me scratching my head. Whitney Mercilus is a guy I liked a lot more as a 4-3 LE than an OLB in a 3-4. Wade Phillips certainly can get the most out of his edge rushers, and chances are he will have Mercilus rush early and often to prevent the rookie from having to drop into coverage. Taking an edge rusher when they already have Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed seems like possible overkill. You can certainly never have too many pass rushers, but getting all three of those guys on the field at the same time without leaving the defense vulnerable to big rushing yardage is going to be an interesting challenge for coach Kubiak and Phillips. Not addressing the WR spot until the 3rd round was somewhat defensible, obviously they loved the value of Mercilus in the late 1st and the draft was very deep at the receiver spot. However, taking DeVier Posey as the answer to the big hole opposite Andre Johnson is one of the most questionable moves of the draft. Even were he clean off-field, Posey’s stock as a receiver was in a bit of a free-fall and there appeared to be a number of other options. 4th rounder Keshawn Martin might be a better bet to contribute, but like Posey seems like a potential reach. Jared Crick in the 4th was a good value pick, if there ever was a defensive scheme for him to succeed in (and it could be the only one he can succeed in at the NFL level), it’s Wade Phillips’ attacking 3-4. He could be a nice role player to give J.J. Watt a breather. Adding Dwight Jones (another overrated and questionable character WR) might yield dividends, but their best undrafted finds could be LB Shawn Loiseau and S Eddie Pleasant.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Andre Branch in the 2nd could be a nice value, though I’m not as high on him as some. The rest of the Jaguars picks seem underwhelming. Justin Blackmon has tons of upside, and the Jaguars badly need a top WR, but I’m not convinced he was really worth a top 10 pick. It’s tough to imagine him as being a top 5 WR in the league at any point in his career, and might not ever be a top 10 guy. Drafting a punter in the 3rd was strange insofar as Brian Anger doesn’t strike me as that great of a prospect. Punters are more important than people like to pretend (and let’s face it, most 3rd round picks are marginal starters at best, so landing a potential 10 year player like a punter is good value if he works out). Just look at the impact Steve Weatherford had in the Super Bowl – almost single-handedly keeping the Patriots pinned deep in their own territory and is a true unsung hero of the Giants’ win. 7th rounder Jeris Pendleton is an interesting story but a long-shot. Undrafted Mike Brewster is the biggest name in the bunch, though there’s a reason he dropped from a 1st round consideration to not being selected – he’s just never lived up to his college hype. Still, he has intriguing upside if he can get himself on track.
Tennessee Titans – Individually, I like the prospects the Titans took. Collectively though, and given the team’s needs, it was strange to see it come together in the manner it did. Signing Kam Wimbley before the draft cut down the team’s need for an edge player, but going with a WR in the 1st surprised a lot of people. Maybe the team feels Kenny Britt isn’t a good bet to rebound to pre-injury form or stay out of trouble? The Titans did throw the ball with surprising frequency last year, so it’s possible they plan on airing it out a lot again in 2012 and want more playmakers in their receiving corps. Zach Brown in the 2nd is a boom-or-bust type, but he fits the Titans’ scheme really well. Taylor Thompson was one of the most intriguing prospects to come out, the converted DE has great athleticism and size for the TE position. Mike Martin is a little short but looks to have solid upside as a rotational player. Markelle Martin was vastly overrated in the beginning of the draft process (at one point, he was being mocked in the 2nd round) but as a 6th rounder he could add some value in sub packages or on special teams. DaJohn Harris could stick as an undrafted free agent.
Overall, the Colts’ class has the most obvious potential – even outside of Luck. The other three teams seemed to be a mixed bag of guys I liked and guys I didn’t like. It doesn’t look like Jacksonville or Tennessee did enough to close the gap between themselves and Houston as the top team in the division but it also doesn’t look like the Texans’ draft class put them definitively atop the AFC contenders. If the Texans are healthy, they should win the AFC South comfortably, even if they get nothing from their draft class. For the Jaguars or Titans to supplant Houston as division champs, they will need their 2nd year QB’s (Gabbert and Locker) to play extremely well and get some first year impact from their draft classees.
There are few things more amusing in football than the seemingly obsessive need draft followers and football fans have to assign draft classes a grade right after the draft. Between now and the time these guys’ rookie contracts expire (2015 and 2016), things will change significantly from the way they appear now. Most such grades come from this thought process:
1. What did I feel was the team’s biggest need or 2
2. Did they fill those needs via the early or mid parts of the draft? If no, the team gets a bad grade. If yes, see #3
3. Did they fill those needs with players I like based on scouting reports (either personal, or taken from websites/”experts”)
4. If yes, team gets an A or B. If not, team gets a B- or C
5. Did team take a guy I personally liked or had as a “sleeper”. If yes, increase grade one half-grade.
6. Did team take a guy I personally disliked, viewed as a likely bust or considered overrated? If yes, decrease grade one half-grade
How many websites and analysts gave the Cardinals a good grade after snagging Matt Leinart in 2006? Or the Browns an “A” after maneuvering to get not only Joe Thomas, but Brady Quinn in 2007? In 2004, Mel Kiper had this to say about the Minnesota Vikings draft, which he graded as an “A”:
Kenechi Udeze, Dontarrious Thomas and Darrion Scott will help immensely for a team that needed speed on defense, particularly speed outside off the edge. Nat Dorsey and Mewelde Moore were my top two players available on Day 2 and the Vikings got them both. Rod Davis will also help the front seven and Deandre Iland is a versatile defensive back, while Jeff Dugan is a strong blocker at the tight end spot.
Needless to say, not even the biggest Vikings fan could give their 2004 class a grade better than a C- in retrospect.
So while I don’t partake in grading drafts, I do have plenty of thoughts on what transpired over the last few days. Starting in the AFC East:
New York Jets – I’m surprised that the Jets passed on the edge rushers who slid down the board, especially Chandler Jones and Melvin Ingram. Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan swung for the proverbial fences with their draft strategy this year, using their first two picks on big upside/big risk players. If Quinton Coples and Stephen Hill can realize their potential, the Jets will look brilliant. The problem is, they’re not in an environment conducive to doing so. Coples is a guy with a questionable motor and attitude, coming into a locker room which was toxic by a lot of reports.As for Hill, I’m not a fan of receivers with iffy hands and an inability to run routes and it will be interesting to see how he fits in with Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow lobbing him the ball on 9-routes. The Jets needed a RB badly to back up (or supplant) Shonn Greene but waited until snagging Terrance Ganaway in the 6th. However, Ganaway fits the Jets scheme pretty well, and he could be starting by year’s end. Demario Davis, Antonio Allen and Jordan White are a trio of later picks wh0 could really help. It wouldn’t surprise me if the best players from the Jets’ draft end up being from their assortment of day 3 picks. Undrafted players Donnie Fletcher, Ryan Steed and Brian Linthicum were prospects I felt could have been drafted. The Jets failure to add a RT was almost as surprising as passing on an edge rusher. That’s a decision that could come back and haunt them.
Buffalo Bills – I’m not a big fan of Stephon Gilmore, at least not at #10 overall. He’s got the talent to be a star, but will need a lot of work and coaching to realize his upside. Cordy Glenn was a surprising draft-day slider, but he could really struggle at LT if that’s where the Bills try him. On the right side of the line, he could be an excellent player though so we’ll have to see how that plays out. T.J. Graham was a bit of a wacky pick in a draft full of them, his speed is impressive but he might not be able to get off the line against physical DB’s. The Bills Day 3 haul netted them some bigger name players in Ron Brooks, Nigel Bradham, Tank Carder. At the very least, they upgraded their special teams units with those guys though I think one or two could help out on defense (Brooks especially). Zebrie Sanders slid into their laps, but I’m not sure he has a place in the NFL. Undrafted Aaron Corp could turn into something, though he’s probably a practice squadder in 2012.
Miami Dolphins – I’ve bashed the Dolphins in the past for failing to get a franchise QB, so I can’t fault them for taking Ryan Tannehill. The rest of their draft underwhelmed me. Jonathan Martin, overrated to begin with, was drafted to play RT, a position he might not have the strength for. Lamar Miller was a surprising slider on draft day (due to rumored medical concerns) but where does he fit? I wasn’t a fan of Daniel Thomas last year and he didn’t do much to ally my doubts about him, but taking Miller (on top of having Reggie Bush) was a bit odd. I’m a big believer in taking the best guy on your board, but this is a team that traded away their #1 WR and failed to replace him. That they waited until the 6th round (B.J. Cunningham) in a WR-deep class to address the position was one of the most baffling decisions of the weekend. Perhaps they envision 3rd rounder Michael Egnew as guy who they can split out a lot of the time. I like Olivier Vernon, though he has big question marks. J0sh Kaddu is probably a special teams guy at best in the NFL. Like any draft class with a 1st round QB, the 2012 Dolphins draft will ultimately be judged on Tannehill’s success. If he flops, it will be difficult for this class to look good 3-4 years from now. If he realizes his (significant) upside, the rest of these picks don’t really matter. Myron Johnson, Kelcie McCray, Jeff Fuller, Jacquies Smith and Jonas Gray are undrafted guys who could stick.
New England Patriots – Just when you think you’ve figured out Bill Belichick, he goes and trades up (not down) twice in the first round. This after several drafts where he was criticized for trading down and missing on top defensive talent. Chandler Jones and 3rd rounder Jake Bequette are not only guys who should help improve the Pats pass-rush, but also have great upside as run-defenders. That helps a defense which had way too many 1-dimensional and situational type players last year, which ultimately killed them in the Super Bowl. Dont’a Hightower is the type of LB who would have fit well with the Patriots dynasty teams, a hard-hitter with a knack for big plays at big moments. 2nd rounder Tavon Wilson was the first of many strange picks league-wide in the 2nd-4th round. Many (most? all?) draft websites and analysts had Wilson as a late round or undrafted type talent and it was a shock to see him go so early. That it was so bizarre (not merely a 1 round reach by conventional scouting), tells me that Bill Belichick sees something very specific in Wilson that projects well to the Patriots’ scheme. While he’s missed plenty on defensive players in the draft (like any long-time GM), 8 Super Bowl appearances and 5 Super Bowl wins as a coach/coordinator buys you a lot of leeway. Especially when he is known for trading down and getting better value instead of reaching on players. That he stayed put and selected Wilson says a lot about how highly the Illinois CB/S was ranked on the Patriots board. The Pats didn’t have many other picks, but snagging Alfonzo Dennard in the 7th is a brilliant move. Even with his off-field issues, Dennard probably should have gone 100 picks earlier. Not grabbing an interior DL (4-3 DT or 3-4 DE) was a surprise, and could be indicative of the Pats running even more sub-packages than they did last year (about 60% of the time). Undrafted OL Jeremiah Warren was a guy I had as a mid-round sleeper and Markus Zusevics could have been a mid-rounder had he not torn his pectoral at the combine.
Overall, I don’t think we saw a power shift in the AFC East. The Patriots 2012 season will be defined as much by their young DB’s (Pat Chung, Devin McCourty and Ras-I Dowling) as their 2012 draftees. The Dolphins didn’t do much which makes them obviously better for next season, as Tannehill is probably headed for the bench behind David Garrard/Matt Moore. The Bills have had a solid off-season overall, and their rookie class should give them quality depth if not big contributors next year. The Jets haven’t done much this offseason to fix their biggest problems from 2012 and it’s unclear where they expect to get internal upgrades from, though a DL of Coples-Pouha-Wilkerson could be an imposing unit.
My final draft rankings can be found here: Final 2012 Draft Rankings
By the numbers:
Tier 1 prospects: 6
Tier 2 prospects: 14
Tier 3 prospects: 33
Tier 4 prospects: 43
Tier 5 prospects: 78
Tier 6 prospects: 87
Tier 7 prospects: 115
Total prospects: 376
376 prospects might seem like a lot, given there are only 253 picks in this draft but consider:
– Last year there were over 450 rookies who appeared on NFL rosters in some form for at least one week: active roster, IR or practice squad.
– My board does not eliminate draftable prospects based on criteria such as: character, medical, scheme fit, etc. Many NFL teams will have their own wishlist pared down significantly based on those factors.
– This draft is deeper than average in the mid/late rounds. While I don’t think this draft will churn out a lot of stars, and it’s a weak crop in many ways, there is a larger-than-average pool of guys who project as backups and rotational players. Furthermore, there is a glut of quality WR’s and RB’s and a number of CB’s (though I’m less sold on the overall quality of corners than receivers and running backs).
Check back tomorrow before the draft for my final downloadable big board and last second draft thoughts.
You can find my final 2012 draft rankings here: 2012 Rankings
If you don’t want to click the link (click the picture to make it bigger):
(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)
Just four days to go until the 2012 NFL draft. Here is another look at how things could shake out next week:
1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
With the Colts already announcing they intend to choose Luck, there is no suspense in the first pick of this year’s draft.
2. Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
With Luck headed to Indianapolis, Griffin will be headed to the nation’s capital. He could be the first true “franchise QB” the Redskins have had in a long, long time. He better be, given the package of picks Washington traded for him.
3. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil, OT, Southern California
There has been growing belief that Kalil could slip past Minnesota here, but it would still be a surprise to me if the Vikings pass up the best LT in this draft. They could go with Justin Blackmon, but protecting Christian Ponder has to be a top priority and current LT Charlie Johnson just isn’t up to the task
4. Cleveland Browns – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Colt McCoy probably isn’t going to be the guy to take the Browns where they want to go so the question becomes: do they give McCoy one more year with a premier offensive talent like Justin Blackmon or Trent Richardson, or do they grab a potential franchise QB now? I don’t think the Browns can pass on Tannehill here and still have another first rounder to add a RB or WR.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Talented but troubled Aqib Talib is probably on the way out and Ronde Barber is ancient. Claiborne is an ideal pick for the young Tampa Bay defense. It would be very surprising if Claiborne was available here and the Bucs passed on him. Trent Richardson is the only other guy who could make some sense but grabbing a CB has to be a higher priority than a RB.
6. St. Louis Rams – Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
It’s assumed that the Rams will grab Justin Blackmon if he’s available at #6 but new coach Jeff Fisher loves to build his defense, especially with DT’s who can disrupt the pass. Cox didn’t have an off-the-charts Combine, but he is an ideal 4-3 3-technique who can get after the QB and hold his own in the run game. He will give St. Louis the talent on the interior DL that they’ve lacked for a number of years.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars – Melvin Ingram, OLB, South Carolina
Another spot where Justin Blackmon could go but the Jaguars choose to address their pass rush after adding some veteran depth at WR in the offseason. Currently the Jags only pass rusher is hard-working Jeremy Mincey – who is productive but isn’t a guy offenses have to gameplan for. Ingram had dynamic pass-rushing ability and gives the Jaguars some much needed athleticism at DE
8. Miami Dolphins – Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
There aren’t many teams who have had worse offseasons than the Dolphins. Their big weakness heading into the 2012 season was their passing game. They traded their #1 WR (Brandon Marshall) and have gone yet another offseason without adding a franchise QB. Unless they trade up for Tannehill, they will be relying on veteran mediocrities at QB for the next year or two. Blackmon will allow them to get the most out of Matt Moore or David Garrard and gives the Dolphins a much needed boost to their thin WR corps.
9. Carolina Panthers – Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
The Panthers could go in a number of directions at #9 but Michael Floyd is the best player on the board at this point and might be a better prospect than Justin Blackmon. Combined with Steve Smith, Cam Newton will have an exciting duo of WR’s with which to shred opposing secondaries.
10. Buffalo Bills – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The Bills would probably like to have snagged Floyd or Blackmon, but with both off the board they have to address their weakness at OT – a spot which was a problem before losing Demetress Bell to Philadelphia a few weeks ago. Reiff gives the Bills a long-term solution at LT and should help keep Ryan Fitzpatrick upright. A CB like Stephon Gilmore could be a possibility here as well.
11. Kansas City Chiefs – Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
It would be surprising if Richardson falls this far. Chances are that if he gets past Tampa Bay at #5, someone will trade up for him. However, if he is on the board at #11, the Chiefs won’t pass up on him. Jamaal Charles is coming off of a serious injury and Thomas Jones is at the end of the line. If the Chiefs can’t run the ball, they aren’t going to win many games because Matt Cassel isn’t going to be able to carry the team. Richardson gives the Chiefs an exciting weapon and keeps Kansas City’s running game at the top of the NFL.
12. Seattle Seahawks – Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
David Hawthorne is in New Orleans and the Seahwaks don’t have great internal options with which to replace him. It’s possible Seattle slides K.J. Wright inside, but they’d still have a big hole in their LB corps. Kuechly has some versatility and should be a very productive player for coach Carroll. DL help is also on Seattle’s wishlist, so a guy like Devon Still or Nick Perry is an option as well.
13. Arizona Cardinals – David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
The Cardinals OL is perpetually a problem and DeCastro is easily the best OL on the board at this point. It would be a surprise if Arizona passed on the Stanford guard – who projects as the best interior OL to be drafted in a decade. The Cardinals do have a lot of other needs, including at WR (Kendall Wright could be an option) and at LB.
14. Dallas Cowboys – Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse
One of the first big surprises of the draft, the Cowboys go with an OLB to play opposite DeMarcus Ware. Incumbent Anthony Spencer was franchise tagged and none too happy about it. Even if he plays under his franchise tender, he probably isn’t a long-term solution for Dallas. Chandler Jones has a ton of upside, despite inconsistent production at college. The Cowboys need playmakers on D and Jones has the ability to wreak havoc on opposing QB’s while having the potential to drop into coverage at the LB spot. Mark Barron or a DE could be an option as well.
15. Philadelphia Eagles – Devon Still, DT, Penn State
Andy Reid loves to build his lines and he needs to add some talent and youth to his interior DL. While Fletcher Cox has been the trendy pick for the Eagles, he projects to be long gone by the time Philadelphia comes on the clock. Devon Still has a lot of upside and is the well-rounded type of player that Philadelphia needs. While he’s not an elite pass-rusher, nor an imposing run-stuffer, Still has a lot of ability and can contribute as a 3-down player.
16. New York Jets – Mark Barron, SS, Alabama
The Jets need help in a number of spots. Their edge-rusher spot is lacking, they could use another RB, a dynamic talent at WR and help on the right side of their OL. However, their safety spot is a black hole and Mark Barron is too good of a value for them to pass up. The Jets cannot expect to wrest the AFC East title from the Patriots without adding some talent and depth at safety. The aggressive Jets front office might even be willing to go so far as to trade up for Barron if they feel they can’t get him at #16.
17. Cincinnati Bengals – Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
Andre Caldwell is in Denver and Jerome Simpson is unsigned and has serious off-field problems. Andy Dalton could really benefit from a playmaker opposite A.J. Green. He disappointed at the Combine, but make no mistake – Wright has serious big-play ability.
18. San Diego Chargers – Nick Perry, DE, Southern California
The Chargers badly need a pass-rusher, as Shawne Merriman’s glory years are a distant memory at this point and they’ve struggled to address the position recently. Nick Perry is a bit of a wildcard in this draft, with the upside to go in the top 10 but he could also slide to the late 1st. He has an explosive first step and the athleticism to beat quality offensive tackles. He could use some refinement in his technique, and will have to develop additional pass-rush moves, but his talent level is amongst the best in this class if you need a guy to attack the QB.
19. Chicago Bears – Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
New GM Phil Emery has given QB Jay Cutler some new toys on offense and has filled a lot of the team’s needs on that side of the ball, though questions remain on the OL. The Bears defense needs an influx of youth, especially along the DL. Dontari Poe has the massive size that will remind long-time Bears fans of former All Pro Ted Washington, though Poe has more athleticism. Some questions remain about Poe’s lack of production in college (against mediocre competition) and his overall football IQ and instincts, but his combination of size and athleticism is too good to slip too much farther in the draft.
20. Tennessee Titans – Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Center and DE have to be atop the Titans wishlist and coach Munchak has implied that he doesn’t want to go interior OL early. Whitney Mercilus has been the popular pick here but Quinton Coples could be an option as well – providing less flash but a more well-rounded and versatile skill set. If Coples can live up to his sky-high potential, he could be a huge steal at #20 – though it wouldn’t be a surprise if he slips past this spot in the draft.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Even with Terrance Newman added, the Bengals D needs help in the secondary and Gilmore is a natural fit for their defensive scheme. While he needs a lot of work to smooth out his technique problems (especially his footwork), he has the most exciting upside of any DB in this draft outside of Morris Claiborne. If Leon Hall can’t regain his pre-injury form, Gilmore could be a long-term #1 CB in Cincinnati. Otherwise, he will help give the Bengals a top CB pairing.
22. Cleveland Browns – Courtney Upshaw, DE, Alabama
The Browns need a playmaker at WR or RB. However, Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw might be too good of a value to pass up here. While his pass-rushing ability is probably a bit overrated, he still offers a ton of upside as a well-rounded 4-3 DE. The Browns added Frostee Rucker to play opposite Jabaal Sheard, but Rucker isn’t a long term option and is more of a rotational player anyway. Adding Upshaw to an already talented DL could make the Browns front line the best young unit in the league.
23. Detroit Lions – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Lions have a solid young defense but really need a quality player in their defensive backfield. Dre Kirkpatrick could be the 2nd best CB in this class and will help solidify a secondary which has lacked top-end players for a long time.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia
The Steelers OL has been a major problem for awhile and they cannot pass up the talented, massive and athletic Georgia OL. Cordy Glenn gives Pittsburgh some versatility, with the ability to play either RT or RG in the pros. Pittsburgh could also choose to infuse some youth into their defense, with an ILB like Dont’a Hightower or a DB – possibly even an OLB as the Steelers love to collect pass-rushers
25. Denver Broncos – Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
There are few prospects as polarizing as Brockers in this year’s first round. You either love him or hate him. The redshirt sophomore has a lot of potential but his production is lacking and he didn’t impress in the offseason workouts. That said, the Broncos interior DL is desperately in need of talent and Brockers could be the guy they need to improve the unit. Other options could include Jerel Worthy or Kendall Reyes.
26. Houston Texans – Dont’a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
The Texans traded starting ILB Demeco Ryans and didn’t replace him externally. Wade Phillips’ already stout and impressive defense could use a guy like Hightower who plays with the hard-hitting and aggressive demeanor than Phillips loves. A #2 WR is also a distinct possibility, with Stephen Hill or Rueben Randle being possible options
27. New England Patriots – Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State
It’s tough to see Bill Belichick passing up on McClellin – not only because the Patriots’ OLB are easily the worst of any serious playoff contender, but because McClellin is the versatile type of defender that Belichick loves. The Boise State LB can line up inside, outside, in either a 4-3 or 3-4, he can drop into coverage or rush the QB. The only concern here is McClellin’s 3 concussions. It’s possible some teams could have him off their board due to concerns about his health.
28. Green Bay Packers – Whitney Mercilus, OLB, Illinois
The Packers have needed a player to rush the QB opposite Clay Matthews for awhile now. Mercilus may or may not be able to move to OLB from his collegiate spot at DE. However, in a scheme like Dom Capers’ attacking 3-4, he will be able to pin his ears back and use his athleticism to get after the QB frequently. The Packers could also go with a 5-technique DE here – Kendall Reyes or Jerel Worthy.
29. Baltimore Ravens – Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
Even with Torrey Smith en tow, the Ravens could use another young receiver to give them some big play ability on offense. Baltimore has few pressing needs and can afford to roll the dice a little on a project like Hill – whose upside could be higher than any onther WR in the draft. An interior OL like Peter Konz could make a lot of sense as well.
30. San Francisco 49ers – Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
Coby Fleener might be getting a bit overrated, due to the success of other mobile TE’s. However, he projects as a reliable intermediate threat who can contribute in the red-zone. The 49ers could use some help in that area, as Vernon Davis can’t do it all himself and their WR’s aren’t great short-area options. Plus, Fleener played under coach Harbaugh and should be able to learn San Francisco’s offense quickly
31. New England Patriots – Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut
The Patriots have filled a lot of needs this offseason, but haven’t found a quality interior lineman (4-3 DT or 3-4 DE) to line up next to Vince Wilfork. Reyes is flying under the radar a bit, but he has the athleticism to push the pocket as well as the strength and length to hold up in coach Belichick’s 2-gap scheme
32. New York Giants – Doug Martin, RB, Boise State
Brandon Jacobs is gone and Ahmad Bradshaw isn’t the most reliable of backs. Boise State’s Doug Martin is a very well rounded back who gives the Giants the versatility they covet in the backfield. Martin projects as a 3 down back who can both pick up tough yards and contribute in the passing game.
Two and a half weeks to go and at this point there isn’t much news to report. 90% of news that you read between now and April will either be a fabrication (either by team sources blowing smoke or by “experts” looking to generate clicks/views). Almost all prospects have been graded, watched endlessly on tape, dissected, worked out, run through medical tests and had their character evaluated thoroughly. If you’re a die hard draftnik, or spend your life evaluating talent, your board should be about set by now. With that in mind, here are 17 quick hit musings – one for each day until the draft:
1. Running back David Wilson might have tantalizing athleticism, but don’t confuse him for a 3-down back just yet. He has a long way to go in pass protection and route running before any team uses him in obvious passing situations.
2. I previously mentioned Boise State’s Shea McClellin and Doug Martin as possible late 1st rounders who are flying under the radar (though NFL Network featured both as potential 1st rounders last week, so I guess the cat is out of the bag on these guys). Their teammate, Billy Winn, could be the best of the trio if he lands in the right scheme. Winn is a well-balanced 4-3 3-technique who could play 5-technique in a 1-gap attacking scheme. I don’t like him quite as much for a 2-gap scheme, he’s probably stout enough to anchor in the run game, but he’s just a bit undersized compared to what the (few) remaining 2-gap 3-4 defenses like in their 5-technique DE’s. With the prevalence of 3-4 schemes, I doubt Winn gets out of the top 50 picks.
3. Cincinnati DE/DT Derek Wolfe looks like a 2nd rounder who is a bit tough to project to an NFL scheme. He has the length to succeed as a 2-gap DE but his weight fluctuations this offseason have been borderline alarming. Somehow, he managed to lose 15 lbs between the Combine and his pro day. If he can bulk up, and stay bulked up, he could be a solid contributor in the NFL but he will have to get by on effort more than athletic ability. He appears to be a better rotational/backup type than a long-term starter.
4. Coby Fleener is being touted as a potential first round prospect, and it’s understandable to some degree. He projects as a quality receiver who can do enough in the blocking game to be a full-time player. That said, guys like Fleener remind us how rare Rob Gronkowski is. One would have to think that a TE with Gronkowski’s physical tools, blocking ability and hands would be a sure-fire top 15 pick this year.
5. Dontari Poe seems to have fallen out of favor of some lately. With good coaching, he could be an absolutely dominant player for a long time. That said, it’s tough to teach instincts and Poe seems to really lack them. Any GM that talks himself into drafting Poe is doing so with the hope that the massive DT’s lack of awareness is a matter of being raw rather than a fundamental lack of football IQ. Drafting guys with questionable instincts is a good way to ensure you don’t stay employed long in an NFL front office. GM’s on the hot seat would be best served to stay away from Dontari Poe.
6. It’s curious that 3 months ago, when NFL mock draft season began in earnest, UNC LB Zach Brown was being mocked to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the #4 pick. With less than 3 weeks to go, most mocks have Brown being available when the Bucs come on the clock in the 2nd round. While Brown didn’t blow people away at the Combine the way some thought he might, he hasn’t done anything this offseason to warrant such a wild swing in opinion. If you liked Brown in January, it’s tough not to like him now. If you saw him (like Poe) as a guy without the mental tools to make in the NFL a few months ago, he should still be off your radar. I still think he is worth a 1st rounder, though not in the top half of the round.
7. I’m surprised that more teams don’t take shots on mid/late round QB’s. While these guys almost never work out, it’s much tougher to find a “hidden gem” QB on the waiver wire than it is to find career backups and special teamers – which is what most 3rd-7th round non-QB’s turn out to be.
8. If there is a “WTF” moment of the 1st round, I expect it will involve a linebacker. One name to keep in mind: Mychal Kendricks. Few players have seen as meteoric of a rise in their draft as he has. The incredibly weak LB crop has convinced some people that Kendricks is worth a top 40 pick. Kendricks is often being projected to an inside spot, but his lack of size leads me to think that his best spot could be WILL in a 4-3 scheme. Drafting him as a MIKE in the top 50 picks would be a mistake in my book.
9. A guy who will go earlier than you might think: Bobby Massie. Don’t be surprised if he is the 4th OT, maybe even the 3rd, off the board. He has late 1st round value and could be a steal in the early 2nd round if he lasts that far.
10. You might have never heard of him but University of Regina DT Akiem Hicks could be a guy we are all talking about as a huge steal 5 years from now. He has a lot working against him – off field issues, poor level of competition, sloppy technique – however, he flashes game-changing ability. From a purely “tools” standpoint, there isn’t much difference between Hicks and Poe. At 6’5 325 and with an explosive burst off the snap, Hicks could be a dominant player in the league if he lands in a situation with a strong defensive coaching staff and veteran leadership.