1. Green Bay Packers – Aaron Rodgers has one of the best arsenals of weapons in the league and the Packers figure to be in the top 3 in offense once again. Their defense looks to return to 2010 form, though losing quality ILB Desmond Bishop for the season could hurt. The secondary needs to rebound though I’m not sure they did enough to reinforce the talent in their defensive backfield. The Packers will need to find consistency and production in the trenches on both sides of the ball, but they look like a good bet to win the NFC North once again and it would be hard to bet against them in January.
2. New England Patriots – If Tom Brady stays healthy, the Patriots are all but guaranteed to have a top 5 offense. Adding Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney to an already dangerous passing attack should worry the rest of the AFC field. The Pats might also see more explosiveness from the RB position with 2nd year backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen replacing the plodding BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Ultimately though, the Patriots will only go as far as their defense takes them. Adding Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower looks like it will pay dividends but can their secondary improve from last year’s nightmarish season? If New England can get a good season from a few of their younger DB’s (Ras-I Dowling, Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Tavon Wilson, Alfonzo Dennard), they will be nearly unstoppable.
3. Houston Texans – The Texans have an excellent offense and an excellent defense. Man for man, they might have the best 22 starters in the league. However, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson have durability questions and the team’s depth isn’t great. Furthermore, I don’t trust coach Gary Kubiak to win in the playoffs. The Texans should put together an excellent regular season if they can avoid injuries to their top players, but they will need to prove that they can take the next step in the post-season.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers – It seems as if many fans and experts are discounting the Steelers a bit this year and it’s tough to see why. Their defense is still loaded with talent and young players like Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward figure to play bigger roles in 2012. The offense underachieved last year for a number of reasons but the O-line should be improved and the WR corps is still amongst the game’s best if Mike Wallace reports. Even without Wallace, there is enough talent for the Steelers to put up a lot of points if they can do a better job of keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright and healthy. The Steelers are still one of the most talented and best coached teams in football and seem poised for another good year.
5. New York Giants – It’s tough to know what to make of the Giants. 2012 could see a return of the mediocre and underachieving regular-season team that they’ve been for most of Tom Coughlin’s tenure or perhaps the 2011 Super Bowl champion team of December – February will be on display for a full 16 games. If their key front 7 players are healthy, the Giants have enough talent to repeat as Champions. The big questions for New York are their CB’s, OL and running game without Brandon Jacobs. Ahmad Bradshaw hasn’t established himself as a consistent threat and I’m not a fan of 1st rounder David Wilson or backup D.J. Ware. The OL was a big problem last year and hasn’t improved much on paper though, as we saw, they can win with what they have.
6. New Orleans Saints – The Saints would be higher up in these rankings were it not for the suspension of Sean Payton. New Orleans has an incredibly talented roster, elite QB and enough young talent to think that they could improve in many of their weak spots. However, taking Sean Payton off the sideline is a huge loss. He might be the 2nd most valuable coach in the league behind Bill Belichick and it’s tough to see the Saints hoisting the Lombardi without him. Still, the Saints should be playoff-bound and Drew Brees is capable of putting the team on his back if needed. With the Super Bowl being played in New Orleans this year, it would be quite a story for the Payton-less Saints to win it all on their home turf.
7. San Francisco 49ers – Projecting the 49ers at this point in the pre-season comes down to one thing: do you think Alex Smith can repeat his 2011 season? Smith will never live up to his #1 overall status, but there’s plenty of reasons to think that he can continue to be a top third type QB under coach Jim Harbaugh who was superb at hiding Smith’s weaknesses and setting him up for success. The defense is loaded with depth and top-end talent and should remain an elite unit. Throw in a terrible division and the 49ers should be headed back to the post-season and double-digit wins.
8. Baltimore Ravens – The good news for the Ravens is that they were one or two plays away from the Super Bowl last year. The bad news is that it’s tough to see how they’ve improved enough to get themselves to the next level. Losing Terrell Suggs for the season is a huge blow and Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are at the very end of the line. As well coached as the Ravens’ D has been, a step back would not be surprising. Unfortunately for Baltimore, they probably cannot withstand a step back from the defense as their offense is simply not good enough to carry the team. Between the timid and overly conservative game plans of the coaching staff and the inconsistencies of QB Joe Flacco, the Ravens offense will be an average unit once again. Ray Rice is good enough to keep the unit from being bad, but the team will not be able to win (or even make the playoffs) without the defense playing up to the lofty standards set by the franchise over the last decade.
9. Detroit Lions – If the Lions can keep themselves out of trouble and avoid taking tons of stupid penalties, they could be a serious contender in the NFC in 2012. Of the teams in my top 10 rankings, the Lions are the team I could see as most likely to flop. Matthew Stafford is clearly an elite QB when healthy – but his ability to stay healthy needs to be proven. The defense has to improve from their 23rd overall ranking (points allowed) if the Lions are to challenge the Packers for the NFC North. While the Lions have some fairly big holes on their roster, an elite QB and disruptive pass rush can take you a long way.
10. Dallas Cowboys – The Cowboys have underperformed for awhile and it’s tough to avoid feeling that with a better coaching staff, they could be a consistent double-digit win team. Their DB corps which killed them at times last year has received a big boost in 1st rounder Morris Claiborne and prized free agent Brandon Carr. They still lack a pass-rusher to take attention away from DeMarcus Ware and Dez Bryant’s problems (both off-field and on) could really affect the offense given the lack of depth at WR. The OL – a perpetual problem in Big D – still looks shaky on paper. Still, the Cowboys have a lot of talent, a top QB and promising young players at a number of positions. The ‘Boys have a brutal opening stretch on their schedule, opening in New York against the Giants and then heading to Seattle before facing Tampa Bay and Chicago at home. After their week 5 bye, they head to Baltimore. If they’re still afloat after week 6, I like their chances for a return to post-season play and a potential Super Bowl run.
11. Atlanta Falcons – After last year, I’m highly skeptical of both coach Mike Smith and QB Matt Ryan’s ability to win a championship. Smith looked out of his league last year with overly conservative gameplans and a bad feel for when to take chances in his playcalling. The Falcons have a ton of talent with which to work, but seem to lack the killer instinct that great teams tend to have. In many ways, they are reminiscent of the Marty Schottenheimer Chiefs teams of the mid/late 1990’s (or even his Chargers teams of the mid 2000’s). The Falcons should be a contender next year and a top regular season team, but probably not a team headed for a deep playoff run.
12. Chicago Bears – Though I’m not a fan of big contracts for RB’s, re-signing Matt Forte was a must for a team lacking consistency on offense. Adding Brandon Marshall was very smart and will give Jay Cutler a solid, if inconsistent at times, target. Drafting Alshon Jeffery could turn into a major coup though I’m skeptical of Shea McClellin’s ability to have an impact in a 4-3 – assuming he can stay concussion free. While the Bears offense should be better than in recent years, their defense is getting old and still has holes in a number of key places. The offensive line has been bad far more often than good in the last few seasons but little was done to upgrade that unit. With Green Bay still an elite team and Detroit on the rise, the Bears could face an uphill battle to return to the playoffs.
13. Cincinnati Bengals – On paper, the Bengals have a pretty stacked roster. Certainly, they’ve added a ton of big name college players over the last few years. Yet, it’s still tough to pencil them into a playoff spot. One big reason is their division,, another is the growing pains that accompany many young QB’s. Andy Dalton was adequate last year, but his 80.4 QB Rating was worse than Kevin Kolb’s and only slightly better than Mark Sanchez and Tarvaris Jackson. Adding reliable, though mediocre, BenJarvus Green-Ellis could help take pressure off Dalton, though Green-Ellis isn’t a huge upgrade over Cedric Benson. If the Bengals haul of young prospects can step up, or they can find another big-time weapon on offense to complement A.J. Green, Cincinnati could be a big surprise next year.
14. Denver Broncos – The similarities between the Broncos and late 2000’s Colts are numerous: exceptional pass rushers, weak in the trenches, shaky secondaries with some upside, mediocre running backs and a team which will rely heavily upon the right arm of Peyton Manning. If Manning stays healthy, the Broncos should win the AFC West and could win 10-12 games. However, the Colts don’t have a Dallas Clark, Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne (let alone all 3 in their prime simultaneously) and it remains to be seen how effective Manning can be playing outdoors every week. We’ve seen him have success in bad weather and with mediocre supporting casts, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he is very much the Manning of old. However, like the Manning-era Colts, the team will collapse without him and it’s not a sure thing that his neck will hold up.
15. Philadelphia Eagles – The problems with basing an offense around Michael Vick were quite apparent last year: he simply isn’t very good at times and he can’t stay healthy enough to be at his best for more than a few games. Rookie Nick Foles will probably be called upon at some point in 2012 when Vick inevitably gets hurt or benched. There’s a good amount of talent on the Eagles roster and they could contend for the NFC East title, but they will need a lot of luck with Vick’s health and performance. The Eagles’ placing in the middle of my rankings is a direct result of them most likely having to play a few games with Foles or Mike Kafka at QB and they’re probably not good enough to survive with those guys for more than a game or two.
16. Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks are right in the middle of my rankings for one reason: I could see them being very good or really terrible. More than any other team, it’s hard to get a feel for whether or not this is an 11-5 type team or 5-11. The QB situation is one big reason why: Matt Flynn is a total unknown and neither Russell Wilson or Tarvaris Jackson strike me as guys that can take a team to the playoffs. The skill position players are a bit overrated but are capable of great things at times. Marshawn Lynch can be a top back at times, and a non-factor at others. Sidney Rice is an excellent weapon when healthy – which has been rare. Seahawks fans seem to love the non-Rice receivers led by Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Ben Obomanu but the front office seems to have a different opinion as they’ve seemingly auditioned or signed every washed up veteran imaginable. If Braylon Edwards or Terrell Owens makes the roster and can be a #1 or #2 guy, Flynn should be set up for success. The Seahawks D is steady and well-coached but their depth is questionable and might have overachieved last year. 1st rounder Bruce Irvin will be one of the most intriguing stories to watch this year.
(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)
The 2011 NFL season is just about in the books. There are a few loose ends to be tied up – the Giants parade, a few coaching/assistant vacancies, retirements, etc, – but for all intents and purposes we are ready to kick off the 2012 offseason. For many of us (especially those of us reading an NFL-draft themed website) the offseason is nearly (equally?) as exciting as the regular season. The first stop is the NFL Scouting Combine in just over two weeks. While some of us will be watching each and every drill and keeping our eyes and ears open for draft-related rumblings, others will just pay attention to the big daily headlines. Here are some things to watch:
1. The top of the DL class. Unlike in some recent years, there is no consensus Top 5 pick DL on the board. There are two guys – LSU’s Michael Brockers and North Carolina’s Quinton Coples – who have very high upside but question marks. Brockers, a redshirt sophomore, is thought to have elite upside but is very raw. Coples is a bit of an enigma, flashing top-end skills at times and disappearing at other times. In a draft class short on 5-techniques, and a league shifting more and more to 3-4 base schemes, both Coples and Brockers could draw a lot of interest early. It’s possible 4-3 teams take an interest in both guys, Brockers is probably atop the list of 3-techniques in the draft and Coples could play DE in some 4-3 schemes. After those guys, Devon Still, Dontari Poe, and others are looking to jump into the top half of the 1st round.
2. The WR class in general. If there’s a position which has a lot of moving and shaking in terms of draft stock at the combine, it’s the receivers. Can Alshon Jeffery run well and prove some of his naysayers wrong about his athleticism and speed? Can Michael Floyd interview well and show better-than-expected fluidity in drills? Is Kendall Wright really as impressive athletically as a lot of people are starting to think? Moving beyond the top tier of receivers, the Combine could help shape the 2nd tier of WR’s. This draft is loaded with speedy, dynamic playmakers: Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, T.Y. Hilton to name a few. Not to mention some bigger guys who could boost their stock with good 40 times: Juron Criner, Rueben Randle, Mohamed Sanu. This is a class which will be very deep in WR prospects and a superlative Combine showing can theoretically make a WR a lot of money. Conversely, with so many good prospects, a bad combine could cause a WR to slip a lot.
3. The “other” QB’s: Kirk Cousins, Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles, Brandon Weeden. Like with the WR’s, there is a bit of a muddle after the first tier of WR’s. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are obviously the #1 and #2 guys. After that, there isn’t much of a consensus on anyone. Seeing how some of these guys do in drills and how they interview will probably cause one or two to shoot up the board and possibly one or two to slide into Day 3 territory.
4. Smaller school guys. Guys like Appalachian State WR Brian Quick, Midwestern State OT Amini Silatolu, Louisiana-Lafayette TE Ladarius Green, Cal Poly DB Asa Jackson and Montana DB Trumaine Johnson are among the lesser known prospects (to many) who the casual draft follower or college football fan might not know about. There are usually one or two such players who see a boost in their stock by performing well in the drills or interview process.
5. Character or injury guys. How does Ryan Broyles’ knee check out? Is Alshon Jeffery’s work ethic bad or just a myth? This portion of the process goes largely unseen until the draft itself when you hear cryptic comments from a so-called expert about how “from what I understand, Player X didn’t do well in the interviews” or “Player Y apparently has some drug issues in his past” or “Player Z’s injury is more worrisome than many thought”. However, as we have seen in the case of Aaron Hernandez (drugs) or Rob Gronkowski (spinal injury), sometimes these red flags can be too highly considered on draft day. We all remember the hoopla about Cam Newton’s comments (“I’m an entertainer and an icon”). Many labeled him a diva or character risk based on those comments and his issues at Auburn. Luckily, Carolina was smart enough to trust their own interview process and make him their franchise QB.
6. Position conversion projects. With the increase of 3-4 teams in the NFL, but no real increase in college, there are more and more teams looking to convert college DT’s to 5-techniques and college DE’s to OLBs. In many cases, teams project these conversions with very little tape to go on. The drills at the combine (and pro days) can go a long way. Guys like Whitney Mercilus, Melvin Ingram, Vinny Curry, Cam Johnson, Andre Branch and the like will need to show well in LB drills to be considered by 3-4 clubs. Some DB drills could also help scouts identify CB’s who could flip to safety (especially important in this weak safety class).
All in all, it should be an interesting kickoff to a 6 month offseason.
(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)
The Senior Bowl is in the books and for all intents and purposes, the 2011 college football season is behind us. With less than a month until the scouting combine and less than three months until the draft, things are starting to come into focus a bit. Here’s a mock draft of how I see things shaking out if the draft were held today:
*Note that I am not projecting trades for the purposes of this mock draft
1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
No brainer. Next.
2. St. Louis Rams – Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
The Rams will likely lose Brandon Lloyd in free agency (he’s said he wants to follow Josh McDaniels, and the Patriots seem likely to be interested) and need to give Sam Bradford an elite weapon to utilize. St. Louis will probably try to move out of this pick, as there will be demand from QB-starved teams who covet Robert Griffin III. Sliding down a few spots should still allow the Rams to get their man Blackmon, who is the consensus #1 WR on the board.
3. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil, OT, USC
The Vikings could go in a few directions here. They could use a CB and perhaps even a WR if they love Blackmon and he is there. However, protecting 2nd year QB Christian Ponder has to be a priority. Matt Kalil has a high upside and should keep Ponder’s blindside clean for the foreseeable future
4. Cleveland Browns – Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Cleveland cannot pass on Griffin if the Baylor signal caller is sitting there at #4. Colt McCoy hasn’t established himself as a franchise guy and Griffin’s upside is too high to pass up for the mediocre McCoy. If Griffin goes #2, Blackmon could make some sense here for the Browns.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
It remains to be seen whether or not new Bucs head coach Greg Schiano will want to deal with his troubled, but talented, CB Aqib Talib. Even if he is willing to give Talib a chance, Ronde Barber is nearing the end of his great career and the Bucs need quality DB’s to compete in the NFC South against the likes of Steve Smith, Julio Jones and Marques Colston. Claiborne is the top CB available and would be a welcome addition to an already young and promising defense.
6. Washington Redskins – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The Redskins find themselves in no-man’s land here. Griffin is gone and their #2 need (WR) doesn’t give them good value. Washington seems like a good possibility to move up to grab Griffin, but if they stay put a talented OT like Riley Reiff makes a lot of sense. Jammal Brown hasn’t been able to get back to the level he was playing at before his hip injury a few years ago and could be on the way out. Reiff could bring long-term stability to the Redskins’ OL.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
If the Jaguars want to develop 2nd year QB Blaine Gabbert, they need to do a better job in keeping him upright – as he got rattled early and often in 2011. Stanford’s Jonathan Martin is an instinctive and powerful blocker who did a great job keeping Andrew Luck upright over the last 3 years. Martin’s also a talented run blocker and should be able to open running lanes for the Jaguars’ talented Maurice Jones-Drew.
8. Carolina Panthers – Michael Brockers, DL, LSU
Brockers caught a lot of people off guard by declaring for the 2011 draft as a redshirt sophomore. He definitely is a raw prospect who will need some refinement before he realizes his immense upside. That said, Brockers is an extremely talented DT who can play inside in a 4-3 front or slide over to the 5-technique in a 3-4. The young LSU DL has a great motor and uses his impressive lower body strength to power past OL in both the run and pass games. He’d provide the Panthers an elite presence in their interior line that they’ve lacked for many years.
9. Miami Dolphins – Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama
Upshaw measured in a little smaller than expected at the Senior Bowl, but he’s still the premier edge rusher in the 2012 draft. The Dolphins will most likely be shifting to a 4-3 next year and need a DE to play opposite Cameron Wake. Unless the Dolphins make a move to grab Griffin, and give themselves the franchise QB they’ve lacked since Dan Marino, Upshaw should be their guy
10. Buffalo Bills – Nick Perry, OLB, USC
The Bills will be reportedly staying with a 3-4 alignment (for now) and desperately need a pass-rushing presence to complement their talented DL (Kyle Williams, Marcel Dareus). Perry is a good looking pass rush prospect who could play standing up, or go back to DE if the Bills revert back to a 4-3 scheme.
11. Kansas City Chiefs – Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Jamaal Charles is coming off a serious knee injury, Thomas Jones is old and Jackie Battle is mediocre. The Chiefs will likely remain a run-heavy team under now full-time coach Romeo Crennel. Richardson is an elite RB prospect with an excellent combination of vision, power and athleticism. While RB doesn’t make sense for a lot of teams in the 1st round, the Chiefs would greatly benefit from having a talented back like Richardson. If Charles comes back healthy, the Kansas City running attack would be a real force to be reckoned with.
12. Seattle Seahawks – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Like the Redskins, the QB starved Seahawks find themselves in an awkward spot. They could use an edge player to play in Pete Carroll’s “LEO” position, but there isn’t a great fit here at #12. Tannehill will strike some as a reach, but he has great upside and the Seahawks could try to skate by with Tarvaris Jackson for another year while Tannehill develops.
13. Arizona Cardinals – David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
The Cardinals find themselves in the opposite position of the Seahawks – they should have top players available at all of their positions of need. DeCastro is, perhaps, the best interior OL prospect in 15 years and could be the first guard since Chris Naeole to go in the top 10. If he’s sitting here at #13, he is close to a no-brainer for Arizona – who badly needs an upgrade on their OL. If they pass on DeCastro, a WR like Michael Floyd or Kendall Wright could make sense. A LB could also be in play here.
14. Dallas Cowboys – Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
The Cowboys OL has been a problem for a long time and always seems to hold them back. They grabbed Tyron Smith in the 1st last year, and this year grab Wisconsin Badgers center Peter Konz. Current starting C Phil Costa is not a realistic long-term solution and upgrading that spot would go a long way to letting Tony Romo and the Cowboys’ offense realize their potential.
15. Philadelphia Eagles – Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
DeSean Jackson is unsigned and unlikely to come back. The Eagles haven’t had a quality “big” receiver for awhile and Michael Vick needs a reliable down-field target. The 6’3 220 lbs Notre Dame WR plays with good physicality and is athletic enough to consistently separate from defenders. Floyd also has good run-after-catch abilities and can contribute as a blocker in the run game.
16. New York Jets – Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
The Jets need a big WR like Floyd or Alshon Jeffery, but Rex Ryan’s defense also needs an infusion of talent in the LB corps. Bart Scott is old, declining and a good bet to be a salary-cap casualty. Dont’a Hightower plays a downhill, hard-hitting style which fits well in New York’s scheme. He also has better athleticism than people give him credit for and is the premier 3-4 ILB in the draft.
17. Cincinnati Bengals – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Leon Hall is coming off a serious Achilles injury and Nate Clements is a free agent after 2012. Kirkpatrick is a tough and aggressive CB who fits a big need for the Bengals. There is some talk that he might be a better fit at safety, which also is a need for the Bengals with Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson as underwhelming starters.
18. San Diego Chargers – Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
Malcolm Floyd was a disappointment playing opposite of Vincent Jackson and the Chargers need an upgrade at WR. There will be plenty of questions about Jeffery’s athleticism and work ethic between now and the draft. If he checks out and runs well, he will likely end up in the mid 1st round. At #18, he is a good value for San Diego and would help Philip Rivers rebound from a mediocre 2011 season.
19. Chicago Bears – Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
The Bears have needed an elite playmaking WR for a long, long time. Kendall Wright is shooting up draft boards now due to his speed and athleticism. He would give Jay Cutler a great deep threat and take some pressure off Matt Forte (if he returns) and the Bears’ running game.
20. Tennessee Titans – Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina
Coach Mike Munchak has stated his desire for a playmaker on defense. Zach Brown has elite speed and athleticism and is the best 4-3 WILL backer in the draft. Playing alongside 2nd year players Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy, Brown would give the Titans one of the youngest and promising LB corps in the NFL.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
The Bengals could use a RB to replace Cedric “3 yards and a cloud of dust” Benson but they could find better value in the 2nd or 3rd round. They need a boost along their offensive line and Cordy Glenn is an impressive prospect who has shown the ability to play a few spots along the line and an impressive run blocker. Playing in the physical AFC North, the Bengals would welcome a road grader like Cordy Glenn
22. Cleveland Browns – Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
The Browns hit a home run in 2011, grabbing Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard to give them a pair of young talents on their DL. While they could use a playmaker on offense (perhaps Lamar Miller, David Wilson or Mohamed Sanu), passing on the talented-but-inconsistent Coples would be a mistake. He’d give the Browns an imposing defensive line which could wreak havoc in the AFC North for years to come
23. Detroit Lions – Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
The Lions loss to the Saints in the playoffs demonstrated just how badly they need to upgrade their defensive backfield. Janoris Jenkins is an elite talent with a lot of off-field baggage who would go a long way in improving Detroit’s pass defense. If the Lions are comfortable with Jenkins’ character he will be too good to pass up at this point in the draft.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona
The Steelers need to replace the aging James Farrior. Burfict is a “love him or hate him” type of prospect. His athleticism isn’t in doubt, but his attitude and instincts have drawn a lot of criticism this year. Playing for the no-nonsense Mike Tomlin and alongside veterans like James Harrison, Burfict could mature into a star LB.
25. Denver Broncos – Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson
The Broncos have a few needs on defense, but could also benefit from giving Tim Tebow another weapon to use on offense. Allen is a well rounded TE prospect who can help block in the run-heavy Broncos offense and also give Tebow an excellent short/intermediate target to utilize. A CB such as Stephon Gilmore or Chase Minnifield could also make sense for Denver here.
26. Houston Texans – Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers
The Texans don’t have a ton of holes on either side of the ball. However, they could use someone to line up opposite star receiver Andre Johnson. Sanu has nice size (6’2 215) and pretty good athleticism. He is a fairly reliable target, with big soft hands and long arms to snatch errant throws. He’s not a polished route runner, but has pretty good quickness in and out of his breaks. He can line up either inside or outside and contribute in all areas of the field.
27. New England Patriots – Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
A NT doesn’t seem to be atop the Pats’ wishlist. But coach Belichick is a believer in Bill Parcells’ “Planet Theory” – the idea that there aren’t a lot of large guys who are athletic enough to play (and play well) in the NFL. Dontari Poe is both very large and deceptively nimble for a 6’5 350 lbs DT. Drafting Poe would allow the Pats to slide Vince Wilfork to 5-technique in a 3-4 front, which they have done with some success over the last few years. In a 40 front, Poe could eat up blockers alongside Wilfork, replacing current Pats DT Kyle Love.
28. Green Bay Packers – Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
Charles Woodson is getting old and Tramon Williams gave up more yardage than any other CB in the league. Alfonzo Dennard is a physical and tough CB who fits well with Dom Capers’ scheme. Dennard is a very talented DB who seems to be sliding a bit due to questions about his athleticism and speed. If he runs well at the combine, he is likely gone by the 28th pick. If he’s here, he has to be Green Bay’s pick.
29. Baltimore Ravens – Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
The Ravens’ biggest needs, C and ILB don’t really match the value on the board. They could try to trade down or they could grab talented Ohio State OT Mike Adams. Michael Oher has been a disappointment at T and Jah Reid might not be the long term answer either. With a lot of wear on current LT Bryant McKinnie, the Ravens could stand to add some reinforcements up front.
30. San Francisco 49ers – Kelechi Osemele, OG, Iowa State
San Francisco was below average in protecting their QB and need to upgrade their OL. Osemele has a terrific package of size, strength and athleticism for an interior lineman. He is an aggressive run blocker who also plays well in the passing game. He’d fit in well in John Harbaugh’s offense. The 49ers could also consider a 2nd tier WR prospect here although they’d probably get better value in the 2nd round.
31. New England Patriots – Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
The Pats need a boost in their secondary. Drafting a CB will allow New England to keep Devin McCourty at safety or perhaps shift 2011 2nd rounder Ras-I Dowling to FS to partner with Pat Chung. Minnifield’s father, Frank, played under coach Bill Belichick in the early 1990’s and Belichick is sure to like the younger Minnifield’s combination of size and athleticism.
32. New York Giants – Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Every draft has a guy who slides a bit more than projected. While Kuechly is generally projected in the top 20 (and could very likely go there), it wouldn’t surprise me if he slides a little. He was extremely productive at Boston College, but is unlikely to impress in combine and pro day drills. The Giants, and former BC coach Tom Coughlin, love Boston College players and Kuechly would fit the Giants’ defense well.
(Originally posted at Mocking The Draft)
With the college football season in the books, it’s time for another mock draft. While things are still very fluid, an early picture of the 1st round is starting to form. At this point, it looks like the 1st round will be heavy on offensive talent with perhaps as few as 12 defensive players being selected. Here’s how I see things playing out as things stand right now:
*Note that I am not projecting trades
1.– , QB, Stanford
This is a no-brainer at this point. Unless some team offers the Colts an absolutely staggering package of picks/players, Luck will be Peyton Manning’s heir apparent
2.– , WR, Oklahoma State
The Rams could go in a number of different directions here. If Brandon Lloyd is to be believed, he will be following Josh McDaniels to New England. Sam Bradford desperately needs a high caliber weapon to throw to. Blackmon might not be the 2nd best player in the draft, but he’s a top talent at a position of glaring need. In reality, the Rams will probably be fielding offers for this pick from teams who want to grab.
3.– , OT, USC
The Vikings have needed a long term solution at LT for a couple of years and Kalil is an elite prospect at the position. He’s probably not in the/ class but he’s close. He can start from day 1 and protect young QB Christian Ponder’s blindside for the foreseeable future
4.– Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
It’s doubtful that Griffin is still around for the Browns, but if he is, they cannot pass on him.has looked pedestrian (on his best days) and while McCoy doesn’t have much to work with, he hardly elevates the game of those around him. The presence of McCoy allows the Browns to develop Griffin slowly as opposed to other teams who might need to rush the raw QB into action early
5.– , CB, LSU
is a great talent at CB, but he has obvious and significant character issues. It remains to be seen if their new coach will want to deal with Talib’s problems. is near retirement. Claiborne can be the cornerstone on an otherwise awful defense.
6.– , QB, Texas A&M
This will strike a lot of people as being a reach but the Redskins simply cannot go another offseason without securing a long-term solution at QB. If they can’t go up to get Griffin, Tannehill makes sense. While he might not have Top 10 talent, he is a guy who is slowly creeping his way into mid-late 1st round consideration and a good combine could get him selected a lot earlier than some are expecting. Tannehill is raw, but clearly a step ahead of most of the 2nd tier options.
7.– , OT, Iowa
Despite spending some recent high picks on OL, the Jaguars are shaky up front. As their fans found out last year,doesn’t handle pressure all that well. To build up his confidence and let him mature as a passer, the Jags need to build a better wall in front of their young signalcaller. Reiff isn’t the most athletic OT you’ll find, but he has terrific strength and a high football IQ. He will test well at the Combine and solidify himself as a surefire Top 10 pick
8.– , DL, UNC
The Panthers have struggled with mediocre (at best) DT play for awhile now. Coples is a local guy who can step in and provide them with some push in the middle. Ron Rivera has the type of personality which should motive the enigmatic and inconsistent defensive lineman.
9.– Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
While a QB is probably atop the Dolphins’ draft day wishlist, both of the top options and the backup plan are off the board. Shifting gears, they grab an immediate upgrade to their RT spot in Martin. The Dolphins were stuck with Marc Columbo at RT last year and needless to say, it didn’t produce the desired results. Martin, who plays with a mean streak, is as solid of a run-blocker as you’ll find in this draft. He will help pave the way for 2011 2nd round RB Daniel Thomas
10.– , CB, Alabama
The Bills have a few holes they need to fill but CB is amongst the most pressing.has battled injuries the last 2 years and neither nor inspire a lot of confidence. Kirkpatrick is a big CB (6’2,190) who should be able to match up well with division rival receivers such as .
11.– , G, Stanford
DeCastro is possibly the best offensive guard prospect in 15 years and has a shot to be the first guard drafted in the top 10 sincein 1997. While the Chiefs really need an upgrade at QB, there is nobody left who makes sense at #11. Instead, they take the imposing road grader from Stanford. He will help keep the pocket clean for whichever QB the Chiefs settle on and should be able to create running lanes for and company.
12.– , DT, Penn State
The Seahawks find themselves in no-man’s land here. The QB’s are gone and it’s probably too early to consider any of the remaining DE’s (to play the LEO position). If Marshawn Lynch departs, a RB would be a possibility. However, their pass rush is lacking, especially from the interior DL. Devon Still gives them a big guy who can push the pocket and should take some pressure off.
13.– , WR, Baylor
The Cardinals have been looking for a #2 WR since trading Anquan Boldin. Early Doucet is a free agent and might not return andprobably isn’t the answer. The fleet of foot Wright has been rising up draft boards in the wake of an excellent 2011 season and would make an excellent option opposite .
14.– , CB, Nebraska
is overpaid and declining and the Cowboys pass defense ended up being their undoing this season. Dennard is a physical CB who plays the style of football that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan likes. Dennard can play outside or inside and could even help out at safety, if needed. While he isn’t as hyped as his former teammate was last year, he’s pretty close in ability.
15.– , LB, Boston College
The Eagles’ LB corps is amongst the worst in the league and Kuechly is the best 4-3 LB on the board by a wide margin . He’s a natural fit for their defense and should be a highly productive, if unspectacular, LB for Philadelphia for a long time.
16.– , DE/LB, Alabama
The Jets have needed a pass-rusher for awhile, and whileprovided a surprising amount of pressure last year, he’s not a 3-down player. Upshaw’s ability to contribute in both the run and pass game, as well as play as either a DE or LB gives him the versatility that Rex Ryan covets.
17.(from Oakland)- , RB, Alabama
It would be surprising to see Richardson slide this far, and the Jets might be very interested at #16. However, as enticing as Richardson’s potential is, there aren’t a lot of teams who are both in the market for and willing to spend a top pick on a running back. The Bengals need an upgrade from “3 yards and a cloud of dust”and Richardson should be able to immediately come in and take some pressure off young .
18.– , NT, Memphis
The Chargers could be hoping that David DeCastro slides this far, as they need a replacement forbut that scenario seems unlikely at this point. wasn’t as effective in 2011 as in 2010 and is unsigned. Poe is an impressive physical specimen with a rare combination of size and athleticism. In the run-heavy AFC West, a monster NT will come in very handy.
19.– , WR, South Carolina
It’s no secret that the Bears need a WR. They haven’t had a franchise receiver in forever andneeds a reliable target. Jeffery is a guy who has a lot of questions surrounding his work ethic and athleticism. If he runs well and shines in the interview process, he will be long gone by #19. However, there is a good chance he slides a bit on draft day. The Bears would be remiss to pass on him at this spot. If Jeffery can stay motivated and productive, he should add an element to the Bears offense which has been missing for awhile.
20.– , DE, Illinois
A late bloomer with only one year of top collegiate production, Mercilus flashed a lot of pass rush ability this year at Illinois. The Titans have a glaring hole at DE as former 1st rounderhas been a disappointment and neither nor seem like quality starters. At this point, he’s the best option at DE for a 4-3 scheme and a good fit for the Tennessee defense
21. Cincinnati Bengals –, S, Alabama
After their playoff loss to the Texans, current safetyis likely to be run out of town. Even if Crocker returns, the Bengals need an upgrade in their secondary. Barron is the best of a pretty bad safety class, combining good size with solid instincts. He’s not an elite playmaker but has deceptively good hands and should be a sturdy defender in the Bengals’ defensive backfield. A CB could make some sense here too, with coming off an Achilles tendon injury and on the wrong side of 30.
22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta)-, RB, Miami
Having already snagged Robert Griffin III earlier, Tom Heckert and Mike Holmgren decide to give him some help in the backfield. Incumbent Peyton Hillis is coming off a very disappointing season and is a free agent.can’t stay healthy and no one else is a possible starter. Miller gives the Browns a quality back who adds some speed and athleticism to an underwhelming stable of RB’s.
23.– Zach Brown, OLB, UNC
The Lions got some surprising production from 2011 free agent acquisitionsand but is upgradeable and Tulloch is unsigned for 2012. As a group, the 3 LB’s combined for only 5 sacks (2 from the OLB spots). While the Lions need some help along the OL and in the secondary, it would be tough to pass on Brown. The UNC ‘backer has excellent athleticism and plenty of upside. He would immediately add some pass rush to a LB group which has under-produced in that department for a long time.
24.– Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
is old and in rapid decline and the Steelers need an infusion of young talent in their LB corps. Hightower plays with the hard-hitting, downhill style that Pittsburgh fans have grown accustomed to seeing from their LB’s. He projects as a top run defender with some ability in the pass game and would be a great complement to the smaller, more athletic, .
25.– , CB, South Carolina
is old, though still productive. The rest of Denver’s CB’s aren’t starter material. has been targeted frequently and effectively by opposing QB’s. Cassius Vaughn, and Chris Harris are spare parts and not suited for a starting role. Gilmore is a smart, athletic CB with good size who would be an excellent fit in Dennis Allen’s scheme.
26.– , G/T, Georgia
The Giants OL proved to be shaky in protectingat times and unreliable at opening running lanes for and Brandon Jacobs. Glenn is a big, athletic OL who can help out at RT but is probably best suited inside. His pass blocking needs some work and he could use some coaching to improve his technique, but he has elite upside and is an attractive option at this spot in the draft.
27.– , WR, Notre Dame
As if the Texans offense (with a healthy Schaub) wasn’t dangerous enough? Gary Kubiak’s passing attack needs a better option oppositeand Floyd could create some real match-up problems for opposing defenses. At #27, the tall Notre Dame WR is simply too good of a value to pass up.
28.– , WR, Rutgers
San Francisco has been searching for a top WR for a long time.didn’t work out as expected and the veterans they have brought in haven’t fared much better. Sanu isn’t the downfield threat some 49er fans covet, but he’s got a great skill set and a knack for finding holes in the opponent’s defense. He’d be a perfect fit in Jim Harbaugh’s West Coast Offense and will give Alex Smith a quality receiver other than TE Vernon Davis.
29.– , OT, Florida State
The Ravens don’t have a ton of needs, and their biggest need (ILB) isn’t really a fit value-wise for the #29 pick unless they want to roll the dice on the mercurial Vontaze Burfict. However,is getting up in years, hasn’t fulfilled his potential and is a free agent who might not return. Sanders’ ability to play on either side of the line and his athleticism make him a good project for Baltimore who can let him sit and learn for a year if needed.
30.– Nick Perry, DE/OLB, USC
Green Bay needs some help up front, especially someone who can get to the QB. They could look at a 5-technique to slide in next tobut grabbing a guy like Perry to play opposite is irresistible. Matthews saw a decline in his production this year as he faced more double teams than ever before, partly due to the ineffectiveness of Erik Walden. Perry was one of the top pass rushers in the nation in 2011 and should be able to make the conversion to OLB.
31.– , DT, Mississippi State
Regardless of which scheme Bill Belichick employs in 2012, one thing is for sure: he needs more talent up front. If he runs a 3-4 base, he needs a 5-technique to play next to Vince Wilfork. If he’s running a 4-3, Belichick could use a DT to upgrade from 2009 undrafted free agent Kyle Love. Fletcher Cox can fit either scheme and has the ability to disrupt the QB which the Pats’ big guys are missing. Cox also has a sturdier base than some other 1st round DT/DE types and should hold up in the run game.
32. New England Patriots (From New Orleans) –, C, Wisconsin
Anyone who follows the draft knows that it’s unlikely Bill Belichick keeps both of his 1st round picks. One of them is almost certain to be traded for a few of 2011 picks or a 2012 first rounder. However, if he does keep both, he needs to replace veteran center Dan Koppen. While Koppen has been a reliable fixture inside for the Patriots, he’s old, declining and coming off a broken leg. Fill-in’s Ryan Wendell andhave held up surprisingly well but the Pats need a long term answer. Konz is the best center in the draft and solidifies the position for the Patriots for the next 5+ years
The 2012 NFL Draft looks likely to see a lot of wide receivers selected early. Justin Blackmon, Alshon Jeffery, Michael Floyd and Kendall Wright all look like 1st round picks with a half a dozen or more guys who look like 2nd rounders. As many as 15 of the first 100 names called in April’s draft could be WR’s – making it one of the heaviest concentrations of early WR selections in NFL Draft history.
Another such draft occurred in 1998 – a class which produced one of the all-time greats (Randy Moss) and another highly successful and long-tenured WR (Hines Ward). Moss and Ward were two of 15 WR’s selected in the top 100 picks in 1998. Fourteen years later, Ward is the only guy still employed and most of the other early picks are long-since forgotten. Here’s a look at the WR class of 1998:
While Moss is easily the best WR in the class, he wasn’t the first WR to come off the board. Kevin Dyson, best remembered for coming up one yard short in Super Bowl XXXIV, was taken 5 picks before Moss and finished his otherwise forgettable 6 year career with less production that Moss put up in his first two years. The mercurial Moss, who slipped for the same character issues that would plague his whole career, has one of the most impressive résumés that you’ll ever find (minus the Super Bowl ring). The other 1st rounder – Marcus Nash – was a total flop and was out of the league less than 2 years after being drafted.
The 2nd round was filled with disappointments:
Of the 2nd rounders, Crowell looked like he was on his way to stardom – catching 81 passes for 1338 yards in his 2nd season. At 6’3 215 with good hands and speed, he resembled Randy Moss in many ways. Unfortunately, he suffered a career-altering knee injury in his 3rd season and never was able to regain his pre-injury form. He’s one of the best “what could have been?” types in the last 30 years. The highly hyped Jacquez Green had some nice production early, having 50+ catches in his 2nd and 3rd season. His career fell off a cliff shortly thereafter though, and he was out of the league by 2003. Pathon struggled with injuries and mediocrity for most of his career, although he managed to kick around the league for awhile. Jurevicius was a bit of a late bloomer who battled a number of ailments throughout his career. While he never lived up to his draft position, he was involved in a number of big plays in his career (including a 71 yard catch and run in the 2002 NFC Championship game). Patrick Johnson and Tony Simmons were total flops.
Putting Moss’ production in perspective – he had more catches and yards than Dyson, Nash, Pathon, Green, Johnson, Crowell and Simmons combined.
The first four of the five third rounders were complete washouts. Ward has been one of the most consistent and productive WR’s of his generation and is probably just short of being a Hall Of Fame consideration. The 4th round produced a pair of kick returning slot receivers in Az-Zahir Hakim, a key part of the “Greatest Show On Turf,” and journeyman Tim Dwight. Donald Hayes showed enough promise in Carolina to get a lucrative free agent contract from Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots – and promptly became one of the biggest free agent flops in team history.
The 5th-7th round picks:
Corey Bradford is the best of the late rounders, playing for 9 years between three teams and starting 50 games along the way. Bobby Shaw had a few good years and Alvis Whitted was an excellent special teams coverage guy for almost a decade. The others didn’t amount to much, although Fred Coleman managed to get a Super Bowl ring with the 2001 Patriots.
Overall, the 1998 class serves as a good reminder that a deep prospect class doesn’t always lead to a deep crop of good NFL players. While the 2012 class looks good on paper – despite missing the marquee talent like Moss – chances are that most of the early WR’s will be nothing more than 3 or 4 year contributors and special teams contributors.
(Originally posted by me at Mocking the Draft)
Bowl season is nearly upon us, and NFL draft talk is starting to kick into high gear. While things will change a lot between now and April’s draft, here is how I envision things could play out:
*Note that I project Landry Jones to go back to school.
1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford.
This one seems pretty obvious. There will be rumblings that maybe Griffin could go here, or the Colts could trade for a king’s ransom but Luck has to be the guy. Whether or not he’s as good as some claim, or whether or not taking a QB with Peyton Manning already in tow is a good idea is irrelevant. The Colts passing on Luck would be a huge surprise.
2. St. Louis Rams – Morris Claiborne, CB LSU
If the Rams end up in the #2 spot, I’d expect them to trade out to someone who wants either Griffin or Barkley (assuming both declare). Since I’m not projecting trades in this mock, Claiborne makes the most sense. If the Rams don’t re-sign Brandon Lloyd, a WR needs to be the pick. The Rams’ CB’s are mediocre at best when healthy and Claiborne is definitely the best DB in the draft
3. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil, OT, USC
There have been rumblings that Kalil will go back to USC, but if he comes out he has to be the pick for the Vikings. With a great RB and a young QB, a solid OL would go a long way towards solidifying the Vikings’ offense. Currently, the Vikings are lining up Charlie Johnson at LT. That’s a sure sign that they need a big-time upgrade on Christian Ponder’s blindside. If Claiborne is still around, I expect the Vikings to give him a long look as well
4. Carolina Panthers – Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
The Panthers really need a DT or LB but this is a terrible draft for those positions. It would be too much of a reach for them to take a front 7 player this high. The Panthers’ WR corps could use an upgrade – Steve Smith is getting old, Brandon LaFell is a nice player but not a gamebreaker and David Gettis is coming off a knee injury. Giving Cam Newton a target like Blackmon could instantly make the Panthers’ offense one of the most exciting in the game.
5. Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
The Redskins have a good thing going on defense with Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, but their offense is a mess. They have lacked a true franchise QB for 20 years (and that’s assuming you count Mark Rypien as a franchise QB). Griffin is likely to impress scouts at the combine and has probably solidified himself as a top 10 pick. Matt Barkley is perhaps a safer (and more likely?) pick here, but Griffin offers a degree of excitement which could be too much for Dan Snyder, Bruce Allen and Shanahan to resist
6. Cleveland Browns – Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
The Browns are in an interesting spot at #6. Come April, they will most likely be sitting on the clock with at least one top QB prospect, one top WR prospect and the best RB prospect on the board. I’m not at all sold on Colt McCoy, but I tend to think that the Browns will give him one more year – one with some real weapons to utilize. Trent Richardson is the fashionable pick here for a reason. This draft is knee-deep in wide receivers for the Browns to add later in the 1st or in the 2nd. The question really is: is Pat Shurmur going to want a RB over a WR given how often he likes to throw? He doesn’t make the draft day decisions, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Browns go with a WR like Michael Floyd instead of the RB.
7. Miami Dolphins – Matt Barkley, QB, USC
Like the Redskins, it’s been a very long time since Miami has a franchise QB. Matt Moore is a decent enough stopgap in case Barkley isn’t ready to start on Day 1. Passing on a QB in 2012 would be a huge mistake for a Dolphins team which isn’t too far away from being competitive.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars – Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
The Jaguars need help just about everywhere. I don’t think they give up on Gabbert quite yet and they might be reluctant to going OT with recent investments in Eben Britton and Eugene Monroe. Quinton Coples could make some sense here, but Jacksonville really has to give Gabbert some weapons if he is to have any chance at success. Michael Floyd’s off-field transgressions might get him pulled from the Jaguars’ draft board, as they are fairly stringent upon selecting “high character” players early. For Jeffery to go this high, he will need to have had an excellent combine and/or Pro Day
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina
The first semi-surprise of the draft is the Buccaneers take the best 4-3 OLB in the draft. Brown is a near-perfect fit for the WILL spot in the Bucs’ defense. While many will think a top 10 pick on Brown is a bit crazy, he is one of the few LB’s in this very poor crop of defensive players who has above-average pass rushing upside. The Bucs could also consider a CB here, with Aqib Talib having off-field issues and Ronde Barber near retirement.
10. Kansas City Chiefs – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The Chiefs really need a QB but there isn’t one worth taking at this point. If Landry Jones comes out, he could be a consideration here. The Chiefs also have some holes in their front 7 which need to be addressed but they have to find a solution at OT. 10th overall might be too high for a RT to replace the below-average Barry Richardson, but for a team that loves to run the ball a high-quality OL would go a long way.
11. Philadelphia Eagles – Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
With Manti Te’o going back to school for 2012, Kuechly shoots up into a surefire top 15 pick. The Eagles’ LB’s are abysmal and desperately need an upgrade. Kuechly, a highly productive and versatile linebacker, will go a long way in solidifying the Eagles defense.
12. Buffalo Bills – Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
The Bills could go in a number of directions here. They could grab an OT or even WR in this spot but they make a slight reach to grab the top 3-4 OLB available. Upshaw would instantly upgrade the Bills’ pass rush and provides a fair bit of versatility.
13. Arizona Cardinals – Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
The Cardinals have seemingly had OL struggles forever and upgrading RT Brandon Keith is a must. Martin could play either RT or LT (with Levi Brown flipping over to the right side) and will bring some stability to a perpetually problematic unit. Don’t rule out a LB if there is a post-Combine riser.
14. Seattle Seahawks -Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
The Seahawks absolutely have to come out of the 2012 draft with a young QB. If they miss out on the “big 3” and Landry Jones goes back to school, Tannehill has to be their guy. While many draft experts and fans will be screaming “reach!!!”, the naturally exuberant Pete Carroll will be plenty “pumped and jacked” to have a better option than Tarvaris Jackson or Charlie Whitehurst. Passing on Tannehill here would put the Seahawks in a tough position – they would likely have to trade up from their mid-2nd round pick or settle for a guy like Nick Foles or E.J. Manuel
15. San Diego Chargers – David DeCastro, G, Stanford
DeCastro is possibly the best guard prospect since Chris Naeole in 1997. The Chargers’ OL is a mess with injuries and under-producing talent. All-Pro guard Kris Dielman is reportedly considering retirement after suffering a seizure following a concussion. DeCastro is a big, mean guy who has surprising quickness for his size. He’d look pretty good opening holes for Ryan Mathews.
16. Dallas Cowboys – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Cowboys need a CB to play opposite Mike Jenkins. Terence Newman is getting old and has a high price tag. Kirkpatrick gives the Cowboys some size to match up with the NFC’s taller receivers. He offers the aggressiveness and versatility that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan likes in his CB’s.
17. Tennessee Titans – Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Derrick Morgan and Jason Jones have both been underwhelming for the Titans and Coples is too good to pass up here. He has top 10 talent, but lacks the consistency that you’d like to see from a player taken that early.
18. New York Giants – Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
The Giants need help in a few places, including LB, but Adams is a great value pick at #18. Kareem McKenzie and David Diehl both look to be at the end of the line and the Giants have very little behind either. Adams can most likely be an opening day starter at RT with some potential to play LT down the road.
19. Chicago Bears – Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
It would be a bit surprising if Floyd drops this far, especially if his character issues are smoothed over in combine interviews. The Bears need some help at OL (as always) but need a truly dynamic receiving option for Jay Cutler. The recently re-signed Earl Bennett is a nice complementary player, but the Bears haven’t had an elite WR in a long time. If they can re-sign Matt Forte, Chicago will have a very nice arsenal of weapons.
20. Cincinnati Bengals – Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
Cedric Benson is unsigned, has legal troubles, and isn’t very good. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green give the Bengals an exciting offensive core, but they need to get a RB to take some of the pressure off the passing game. Miller has an excellent combination of size and speed and gives the Bengals another home-run threat for their developing offense.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (via Oakland) – Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
Johnathan Joseph is gone and Leon Hall has a torn Achilles. There is serious doubt as to whether or not Hall will be able to get back to his 2009 All-Pro form. Even if Hall rebounds, there is plenty of room to upgrade from Nate Clements and Kelly Jennings. Dennard lacks the top-end speed that the Bengals often covet, but he’s the best guy on the board and should make for a highly productive NFL player.
22.Cleveland Browns (via Atlanta) – Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
With Trent Richardson in tow, the Browns have to add an explosive receiver to help the seemingly overwhelmed Colt McCoy. Wright is a burner who will give the Browns their first true deep threat in years. It might seem a little early for him, but smaller, speedy WR’s are en vogue right now and Pat Shurmur loves to throw the ball.
23. New York Jets – Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
If there is one coach to whom Vontaze Burfict could respond, it’s Rex Ryan. Burfict has a lot of questions surrounding him about his character, coachability and instincts but his upside is very high if he can harness his ability. The Jets need help at S, G, and OLB but Ryan will have a hard time passing up Burfict who would make an excellent replacement for the aging Bart Scott.
24. Denver Broncos – Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
The stop gap DT’s in Denver, Bunkley and Thomas, have held up surprisingly well. However, it would be a surprise if the Broncos didn’t try to upgrade this spot early in the draft. Poe is a massive DT with pretty good mobility for his size. Post-combine, he is likely to shoot up the boards as he appeals to both 4-3 and 3-4 teams. A CB could also be a consideration here.
25. Detroit Lions – Levy Adcock, OT, Oklahoma State
The Lions’ OL has needed a premium upgrade for awhile now and Adcock would be a huge upgrade over just about anyone on their current unit. Detroit has struggled with both run blocking and pass protection this year. Adcock isn’t the toughest, meanest guy out there but he is huge with above average athleticism. An offensive guard could also warrant consideration.
26. New England Patriots – Devon Still, DT, Penn State
The Patriots will most likely be looking to trade one of their 1st round picks as usual. If they stay put, Still is an easy choice for Bill Belichick. He offers the size and versatility that Belichick likes in his lineman and could lineup next to Vince Wilfork inside in a 40 front or kick out to 5-technique if the Patriots return to a 3-4 scheme. Penn State DL don’t have the best track record of success in the NFL, but it would be tough to pass up on Stll at this point.
27. San Francisco 49ers – T.J. McDonald, FS, USC
The 49ers need a big-play WR, but it’s probably too early for any of the guys still on the board so a safety makes the most sense. Dashon Goldson is a pending free agent (and upgradable even if he were to return). McDonald offers a similar playmaking ability and hard-hitting approach as his father did for the 49ers in the late 1990’s. He has some issues with personal foul penalties, and needs some refinement in his technique, but McDonald has the most upside of any safety in what is looking like another terrible crop.
28. New England Patriots – Mark Barron, S, Alabama
The worst kept secret in the NFL is that Bill Belichick’s secondary is a horror show. While there is some talent (both underachieving and injured) at CB, safety is a huge problem. Pat Chung is a good player, but has really struggled with injuries. Matthew Slater, a WR/special teams ace is starting at FS. James Ihedigbo and Sergio Brown should strictly stick to kick coverage units. The Patriots have to address the safety position in a big way this offseason. While the Patriots need a FS more than a SS, they need the best possible guy they can get which is Barron. An edge rusher like Whitney Mercilus or Brandon Jenkins could be a possibility at this spot, if the Patriots don’t trade out
29. Houston Texans – Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
The Texans don’t have too many glaring holes, but could use an upgrade along their OL. At #29, Cordy Glenn is a steal. He has impressive physical tools, the size and ability that scouts drool over. Glenn projects to a guard in the NFL but could make it at RT as well. The already elite running game of the Texans would become even more deadly with Glenn paving the way for Arian Foster and Ben Tate.
30. Baltimore Ravens – Don’ta Hightower, ILB, Alabama
Ray Lewis is nearing the end of his Hall Of Fame career and the Ravens don’t have much depth at ILB. Hightower is a pretty good fit for the Ravens D. He plays the hard-hitting and aggressive style hat has become synonymous with Ravens football. He is a decent blitzer from the inside and has the size and strength to take on NFL linemen.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers – Kelechi Osemele, OG, Iowa State
The Steelers need a lot of help on their OL. Current LG Chris Kemoeatu is unlikely to return in 2012 and RG Ramon Foster hasn’t established himself as a permanent fixture along the line. Osemele would help the Steelers’ mediocre running game, as well as help prevent Ben Roethlisberger from taking a beating game in and game out. If Casey Hampton retires, a NT like Josh Chapman has to be a consideration here.
32. Green Bay Packers – Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson
The Packers defensive line has struggled a bit this year and could use an infusion of young talent at the 5-technique spot. Thompson is perhaps best suited for the 4-3, but he could fit in Dom Capers’ attacking 1-gap 3-4 scheme. He will remind Green Bay fans of former Packers’ DL Cullen Jenkins in his ability to push the pocket and also help in stuffing the run. This low in the first round, he is a steal.
(originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)
With the college football regular season over, and the NFL season winding down, NFL draft preparations start heating up. While there are still nearly five months until the 1st pick is announced, things will start to move very quickly for prospects and NFL personnel men. For many prospects, Bowl week, All-Star games and the Combine can make or break a prospect’s chances. For some, millions of dollars in guaranteed money are at stake. Here are five guys who need to shine over the next few months.
Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State) – Weeden is a bit of a polarizing prospect. Few doubt that he is a talented QB whose talents (and positional value) should put him in the top 50-75 prospects in the 2012 class. However, his age (he will be 29 in the 2012 season) will create a lot of debate between now and late April. Some will claim that he is as pro-ready as a prospect can be, and his drafting team can still get a good 5-7 years out of him. Others will say that his age precludes him from consideration in the top 3 or even 4 rounds. I’m not sure how much Weeden can really improve his stock, even with an excellent showing in the Fiesta Bowl (although outshining Andrew Luck in that game could give Weeden a boost). The best thing that can happen to Weeden is for some of the junior QB prospects to return to school. Right now, he is probably sitting between 5-10 on the QB rankings. But if a few of Matt Barkley, Robert Griffin III, E.J. Manuel and Landry Jones don’t declare, Weeden could find himself moving up fairly high in the draft.
Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington) – Ta’amu is the #1 or #2 ranked NT on many boards right now. With more than half the league running a 3-4 scheme, big, strong nosetackles like Ta’amu are in high demand. However, I’m not sold on him being a late 1st-early 2nd round prospect as he’s currently projected. For as strong as Ta’amu is, he gets pushed around too easily at time. He also ends up on the ground far too often for my liking. Both of these problems could stem from having mediocre (for his size) lower body strength. On top of that, he has a tendency to get too upright at times and not maintain a consistent low pad-level. There were games this year where Ta’amu was effectively neutralized by single-team blocking (e.g. his game against USC). Not good for a guy who will be counted on to occupy multiple blockers at the next level. His best asset is his first step quickness off the ball for a guy his size. A good combine showing in the agility drills could get Ta’amu into the late 1st round, which is probably a round higher than I’d consider him.
Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina) – Coming into the 2011 season, Jeffery was widely considered to be a top 10 prospect. While some still have him that high, a bit of luster has come off of the Gamecocks’ star receiver. Watching his performance this year, it’s easy to see a guy with a lot of talent who has some issues with effort and consistency. Too many times Jeffery looked disinterested playing in a run-heavy offense. He – like some of the NFL’s high-talent, questionable-effort guys – tends to run sloppy routes, especially when the ball isn’t coming his way frequently. Throw in questions about his conditioning and weight, and there’s definitely a lot Jeffery needs to prove before he reclaims a spot in the top 10 overall picks. There’s no doubt Jeffery has a lot of talent, but he needs to excel at the combine and show that he is in shape and has enough burst and speed to be worthy of a top pick. He will also have to interview well to soothe concerns about his work ethic and attitude.
Dontari Poe (DT, Memphis) – Poe seems like the type of guy who will shoot up the boards as we move along in the process. His measurables (6’5 350 with decent mobility) are impressive. He has enticing upside and gives you the sense that he hasn’t come close to tapping his full potential. He, like Ta’amu, will draw a lot of interest as a NT due to the prevalence of 3-4 defenses. Poe is a bit taller than you’d like in a NT (only Ted Washington has had a lot of success at 6’5, although several quality NT’s have been 6’4) and struggles to keep his pads low. He will need a lot of coaching before he can be a reliable NFL defender, as his technique is pretty poor. However, his size, length and strength will be too much for some GM’s to resist. Poe can really improve his stock by interviewing well, demonstrating coachability and excelling in the strength tests at the combine.
Zach Brown (OLB, North Carolina) – Let’s face it, it’s a pretty bad year to be in the market for a quality 4-3 OLB. While it’s not typically a high-value position come April (except for the occasional elite prospect like Von Miller), there are usually a number of guys who make for solid late 1st-2nd round prospects. This year, Zach Brown is almost certainly the best of a class which is thin in talent at the top. He has tremendous athleticism for the position and should shine at the scouting combine. His speed and burst will draw some comparisons to Miller as we roll through the winter, but his instincts and power aren’t at the same level as last year’s 2nd overall pick. However, he still projects to be a top 15-20 prospect in the draft and with a solid showing at the Independence Bowl and good workouts, Brown could create a lot of distance between himself and the 2nd tier of OLB prospects and solidify his stock in the top half of round 1.