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2012 Draft Recap: AFC North

This is the 3rd of 8 divisional recaps.

AFC East Recap
AFC South Recap

Cincinnati Bengals – Despite having the smallest scouting department in the NFL, the Bengals have done a pretty good job drafting the last few years. 2012 was an important draft for them if they want to build on a successful 2011 campaign and remain as a contender in a tough division. On paper, the Bengals made out extremely well though their draft strategy seemed to be to just draft the #1 player remaining on Mel Kiper’s big board at each selection. Almost every pick represented great value on paper, though trading down in the 1st and passing on David DeCastro (only to see him go to a divisional rival) was questionable. Dre Kirkpatrick fits perfectly with the Bengals scheme and addresses a position of questionable depth. Kevin Zeitler isn’t an exciting prospect but projects as a quality NFL guard. Mohammed Sanu and Brandon Thompson were both guys I felt were overrated as 1st or early 2nd rounders, but in the 3rd round they were nice pickups. Devon Still, Orson Charles and Marvin Jones were also guys who I thought could have gone a round higher than the Bengals picked them. George Iloka probably won’t amount to much but his size and special teams value are enough to give a long look in camp. It will be very interesting to watch this draft class and see how it plays out. One has to think that some of these “big name” prospects who were pre-draft darlings slid for a reason. Even in undrafted free agency, the Bengals stayed true to their strategy of adding well-known prospects, adding mercurial and controversial Vontaze Burfict. Kashif Moore and Julian Miller were both guys I liked as sleepers and could find their way onto the roster.

Cleveland Browns – The Browns got off to what I feel was a bad start, trading up to pick #3 to guarantee Trent Richardson seemed unnecessary. It’s true that the Vikings could have moved the 3rd pick to a team who would have taken the talented RB, but I’m of the belief that no RB is worth taking that early in the draft – especially for a bad team like Cleveland who figures to be a few years away from being serious contenders. Brandon Weeden later in the 1st has drawn a ton of criticism due to his age, but the Browns desperately need to upgrade from Colt McCoy sooner rather than later. If Weeden is a total failure, the Browns will be in a good position to land a top QB prospect next year. The rest of the Browns draft until the 6th round looks suspect. Mitchell Schwartz is a solid prospect but the Browns passed on a lot of good players at bigger positions of need. John Hughes was a downright bizarre selection, showing almost nothing in college to warrant drafting in the top 200 picks. Travis Benjamin doesn’t have the hands or ability to beat press coverage to ever be more than a #3 or #4 WR and isn’t the high-quality weapon the Browns receiving corps has been missing for many years. James-Michael Johnson and Emmanuel Acho were nice value picks and could add depth to the Browns mediocre LB corps. 6th rounder Billy Winn was a guy I liked as early as the upper 2nd round and his slide down the board was one of the more curious storylines during the draft. He could be a real steal, depending on what led to his fall down the board. Brad Smelley is a nice developmental H-Back/FB who is a natural fit for the Browns scheme.

Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers, like the Patriots and a few other perennial contenders, managed to improve themselves without having to try very hard. A team in desperate need of OL help got the best guard prospect in a decade – David DeCastro – to fall into their laps in the 1st round and then managed to snag the overrated but intriguing Mike Adams in the 2nd. Chris Rainey later on could be a nice complement to Rashard Mendenhall and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take Mewelde Moore’s spot on the roster. I’m not high on Alameda Ta’amu, but in the 4th round he offers a lot of value even if he is never anything more than a reliable backup. Sean Spence was an odd pick, given the Steelers scheme but he could fit as a pass-down LB and special teams ace. Grabbing Marquis Maze and Brandon Lindsey as undrafted players was a coup for Pittsburgh, though both face uphill battles to make the fairly stacked Steelers roster.

Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens, reportedly as a result of losing out to the Patriots on Dont’a Hightower, managed to trade down into the 2nd round and get a guy they had been linked to for awhile – Courtney Upshaw. Like 2010 2nd rounder Sergio Kindle, the Ravens are hoping Upshaw can add some youth to an aging edge-rusher position. With Terrell Suggs possibly out for the year – and Achilles tendon injuries tend to be career-altering – Upshaw will be pressed into duty early and often in Baltimore. Whether or not Upshaw can provide much in the way of a pass rush at the NFL level remains to be seen, but I’m doubtful he can be more than a 4 sack per year kind of guy. Kelechi Osemele could pay dividends as a late 2nd rounder, he certainly had the talent to go higher despite questions about his work ethic. 3rd rounder Bernard Pierce and 5th rounder Asa Jackson were guys I thought were undervalued going into the draft and could be nice steals for Baltimore. Tommy Streeter fell to the 6th round for a reason, and likely won’t make it in the NFL. Gino Gradkowski in the 4th was a headscratcher, one has to wonder what Ozzie Newsome and company see in him. QB John Brantley and DT Ishmaa’ily Kitchen are among the more interesting undrafted players that the Ravens signed – both could make it in the NFL but will need time on a practice squad most likely.

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Mock Draft 5.0

April 22, 2012 Leave a comment

(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.

 

13 Days Til The Draft: Three Up, Three Down

April 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Two weeks from now, we’ll be somewhere in the 2nd or 3rd round. As we approach the big day, here are three prospects on the way up and three on the way down:

 

Three Up:

 

1. Chandler Jones – Jones seems to finally be getting media exposure as a potential mid-1st round pick. Part of the increased attention has been due to the lackluster performances of other DE prospects (Quinton Coples, Courntey Upshaw) and the lack of  a true pass rush threat in this draft. After Melvin Ingram (who seems to be entrenched as a Top 10 pick), none of the next group of DE’s has established themselves as solid 1st rounders. Coples, Upshaw and Nick Perry still figure to be 1st rounders but they might have been leap-frogged by both Jones and Shea McClellin. Watching Jones closely, it’s tough to understand why he’s below those other guys as a mid-late 1st round option. He gets knocked for an inconsistent first step, but unlike many of the other guys in this draft, Jones can use his big wingspan and power to disengage from blockers and can beat OL either outside or on inside stunts. Furthermore, he’s a sturdy run defender who can plow through contact and make plays on ball-carriers behind the line. He needs some technique work, but he looks like a New York Giants style DL. He will be able to line up all over the formation and be successful.

 

2. Chase Minnifield – He’s been flying under the radar for months and it’s still tough to figure exactly where Minnifield will get selected. With the red flags surrounding some of the top CB prospects, it’s curious that Minnifield isn’t getting late 1st/early 2nd round consideration. There aren’t many guys  in this year’s draft who are as pro ready as he is if you are running a zone defense. He is a good athlete who will be an immediate contributor on special teams and has the quickness and fluidity to play either inside or outside. He doesn’t have superstar upside, which could be why he is getting overlooked, but he has a lot going for him and should make some team very happy in the 2nd round.

 

3. Brian Quick – The 2012 draft is absolutely loaded at the WR position, especially in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. Regardless of what your favorite team likes in a receiver, there is almost sure to be a guy in the 2nd tier of prospects who will fit their needs. While guys like Mohamed Sanu, Kendall Wright, Stephen Hill and Rueben Randle seem to get the most consideration at the end of round 1/early round 2, Brian Quick deserves some serious consideration. A small school guy who needs some (a lot?) of coaching, he is unlikely to get selected in the 1st, but his size and athleticism make him worth a long look at the top of round 2. At nearly 6’4, 220 lbs, running a 4.5 40 yard dash and possessing terrific leaping ability, he has all the tools to be a top NFL WR. Any coach who thinks Quick can learn to run a route tree should be clamoring for this guy after the top WR’s come off the board.

 

Three Down:

 

1. Whitney Mercilus – I’m surprised so many are buying into Mercilus’ one year of college production. The success of Jason Pierre-Paul seems to have convinced people that athletic guys with limited experience are worth high value picks. Of course, JPP is the exception more than the rule but his impact with the Giants will get Mercilus drafted half a round earlier than he probably should. Mercilus’ biggest strength is a good first step and the athleticism to beat college OT’s off the snap. He most likely isn’t going to beat NFL quality tackles with pure athleticism like he did last year at Illinois. Unfortunately for Mercilus, he’s not a particularly effective player after contact. He gets stood up too often and can get pushed out of the play by tackles with good footwork and the agility to counter his pass rush. As a run defender, he leaves a lot to be desired. Simply put, if he’s not getting to the QB and pinning his ears back, he isn’t a top pick in this draft. A GM who invests a high pick in Mercilus is gambling that he can add pass rush moves to his repertoire and develop the ability to go through OT’s and not just around them. He’s an interesting prospect, but not one I’d invest a top 40 pick in.

 

2. Courtney Upshaw – For a guy who was briefly considered a top 10 talent (possibly to Buffalo or Miami), Upshaw has probably fallen out of early 1st round consideration. His terrible showing at the combine in linebacker drills has really left him in no-man’s land as a prospect. 3-4 scheme teams are probably not going to want to invest an early pick in a guy who is as stiff as Upshaw showed. As a 4-3 DE, he doesn’t project to be a huge sack guy and run-stuffing DE’s who can chip in a few sacks just aren’t worth 1st round consideration. Don’t be surprised if Upshaw slides down to the end of round 1 or early round 2.

 

3. Jonathan Martin – Is there a player who has had a worse offseason than Jonathan Martin? From a top 10 consideration to a possible 2nd round pick. The best thing Martin has going for him right now is that other top OT prospects like Mike Adams and Zebrie Sanders have also shown poorly since the end of the college football regular season. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Martin drop out of round 1.

Mock Draft V. 4.0

March 25, 2012 Leave a comment

With the offseason in high gear, free agency and trades have significantly changed some teams’ draft needs. Here’s an updated look at how the 1st round of April’s draft could go:

1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck – QB – Stanford

A no-brainer at this point. Luck will be the face of the Colts for the foreseeable future.

2. Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin III – QB – Baylor

Another obvious selection, the Redskins gave up a small fortune to get the franchise QB they have lacked for a very long time.

3. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil – OT – Southern California

As much of a sure thing as the first two picks are at this point, the Vikings’ 3rd overall pick is starting to feel like a lock as well. Kalil fills a huge hole and represents a top talent at a premium position. The only other consideration here (assuming Minnesota doesn’t trade down) is CB Morris Claiborne, but it’s tough to see the zone-defense Vikings passing up a LT for a CB. If they ran more man-to-man, it could be possible for Claiborne to go here but Kalil is better value for Minnesota.

4. Cleveland Browns – Trent Richardson – RB – Alabama

This is another pick which seemingly is locked in, though not to the same extent as the first three. The Browns desperately need playmakers on offense and Richardson is one of the best RB’s to come out of college in the last 5-10 years. That said, a WR like Justin Blackmon wouldn’t be a shock and they could even go with Claiborne if they feel they can address the offense later. Ryan Tannehill could draw some consideration here as well, though #4 seems mighty early for him.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Morris Claiborne – CB – LSU

The Bucs have been aggressive in free agency, landing some high-priced and big-name players. However, they still have a big need at CB and it would be a real shock if they passed on Claiborne at this spot. Richardson is the only other obvious choice here if he makes it past Cleveland.

6. St. Louis Rams – Justin Blackmon – WR – Oklahoma State

Blackmon has been tied to the Rams forever and getting him at #6 seems to be a solid meeting of need and value. The Rams clearly need help at receiver and Blackmon is the best on the board. However, this is a spot where we might see our first big surprise – with the Rams passing up the WR to bolster either their offensive or defensive line.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars – Quinton Coples – DE – North Carolina

The Jaguars have three places to go at #7 – OL, WR or pass-rusher. Michael Floyd is the best WR on this board but his character might be too suspect for GM Gene Smith. Riley Reiff could be in play here, but Quinton Coples’ upside is tough to pass up. Yes, he’s inconsistent and has a high “bust factor” but the Jags pass rush was pitiful last year outside of recently re-signed Jeremy Mincey. If he can get and stay motivated, Coples has game-changing ability that Jacksonville’s D has missed for awhile.

8. Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill – QB – Texas A&M

They missed out on Manning. They missed out on (or passed on) Matt Flynn. The Dolphins have been searching for a franchise QB for a decade and cannot go another offseason without adding a top talent at the spot. Tannehill has a great upside, though he’s raw and (like the aforementioned Coples) comes with a big risk of busting. However, the drop between Tannehill and the remaining QB’s on the board is steep and other than possibly over-aged Brandon Weeden none look like potential franchise guys. Either David Garrard or Matt Moore can hold the fort for a year or two if Tannehill needs a lot of time to develop.

9. Carolina Panthers – Dontari Poe – DT – Memphis

Offensive tackle (Riley Reiff?) is a possibility here, but the Panthers have needed an impact DT for a long, long time. Poe might seem like a reach in the top 10, but don’t be surprised if he ends up going this early a month from now. He has good athleticism for his massive size and has versatility to play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 front – which should intrigue coach Ron Rivera. A different DT (Fletcher Cox?) or WR (Michael Floyd?) could work here as well. Carolina has a lot of options and should be able to land an impact player at a number of positions.

10. Buffalo Bills – Michael Floyd – WR – Notre Dame

The Bills have addressed their DL in a big way – adding Mark Anderson and Mario Williams. Despite re-signing Stevie Johnson, they still badly need an improvement in their WR corps. Floyd is a top talent, with the size and athleticism to give opposing defenses nightmares.

11. Kansas City Chiefs – David DeCastro – OG – Stanford

The Chiefs have options here – Riley Reiff and Luke Kuechly among them. If Dontari Poe is still here at #11, he’s a possibility as well. However, a run-oriented team like Kansas CIty would really benefit from an elite guard like DeCastro – possibly the best prospect at the position in over a decade. He would look pretty good opening holes for Peyton Hillis and Jamaal Charles and could help make the Chiefs’ running game the best in the league.

12. Seattle Seahawks – Luke Kuechly – ILB – Boston College

Even if David Hawthorne is re-signed, the Seahawks could use help at LB. If he’s not retained, the MLB spot is a huge weakness entering the draft. Pass-rusher (the LEO spot) is another big need but Kuechly has had a tremendous offseason and it’s going to be tough for Seattle to pass on him.

13. Arizona Cardinals – Riley Reiff – OT – Iowa

The Cardinals need a LT badly – a shaky OL isn’t going to help whoever ends up at QB next year. Reiff is a potential top 10 talent who represents a huge upgrade for the Arizona line. A WR or potentially an edge rusher could be in play, but it’s very difficult to see Arizona passing up a top LT prospect like Reiff.

14. Dallas Cowboys – Melvin Ingram – OLB – South Carolina

Despite franchising Anthony Spencer, the Cowboys could use an upgrade opposite DeMarcus Ware. More to the point, they need a playmaker on defense who takes some attention away from Ware. Ingram isn’t the biggest or fastest guy, but he has a knack for coming through with big plays and should help bolster the Dallas front 7. If David DeCastro is available here, he would be a strong consideration for the Cowboys as well.

15. Philadelphia Eagles – Fletcher Cox – DT – Mississippi State

The Eagles’ biggest need – MLB – was addressed by acquiring DeMeco Ryans from Houston. They could take a WR to complement the recently re-signed DeSean Jackson, though there isn’t a great value on the board here. A defensive tackle is also near the top of Philly’s wish list and Fletcher Cox has huge upside. A strong, agile defender, Cox could prove to be the best interior pass rusher in the 2012 draft.

16. New York Jets – Nick Perry – DE – Southern California

Despite having salvaged Aaron Maybin and re-signing Bryan Thomas, the Jets are in need of a pass rusher and Nick Perry is a fantastic value at this spot. His size and explosiveness will make him a force in the AFC East for years to come.

17. Cincinnati Bengals – Cordy Glenn – OG – Georgia

The Bengals have a huge need at OG and Cordy Glenn is a true mauler with the athleticism to be a truly elite player. Solidifying the line will help let 2nd year QB Andy Dalton develop and should improve the Bengals running game which struggled at times last year.

18. San Diego Chargers – Courtney Upshaw – OLB – Alabama

Upshaw has seen his stock take a bit of a nose dive since the end of the college football season. Once projected as a top 10 pick, it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if Upshaw drops to the 2nd half of the round. While there are some questions about his size, length and ability to play in space, his pass-rushing potential is still very appealing – especially to a team like San Diego which has lacked a top pass-rusher at the OLB spot for a few years. The Chargers also have a huge hole at WR and could go with Kendall Wright, Rueben Randle or possibly Stephen Hill to replace the departed Vincent Jackson.

 

19. Chicago Bears – Michael Brockers – DT – LSU

Having addressed their perpetual WR problem by acquiring Brandon Marshall, the Bears have a few options at #19. Having been spurned by free agent DE Jeremy Mincey, the Bears still need an upgrade opposite Julius Peppers so Whitney Merciclus could be in play. A selection at OT also wouldn’t come as a surprise with Jonathan Martin being an option. However, Amobi Okoye is still unsigned and Michael Brockers’ upside at this point is irresistible. The Bears won’t be able to pass up the raw but talented former LSU DT.

20. Tennessee Titans – Whitney Mercilus – DE – Illinois

It’s tough to gauge where the one-year wonder Mercilus will go but if he’s still on the board at #20, the Titans will take a long look at him. Tennessee has a big hole at DE and have been searching for a pass-rusher at that spot for awhile and Mercilus has some of the best pass rushing ability in the draft.

21. Cincinnati Bengals – Kendall Wright – WR – Baylor

Having added a RB in BenJarvus Green-Ellis and bolstering the OL a few selections ago with Cordy Glenn, it’s time for the Bengals to add a dynamic threat to complement A.J. Green at WR. Wright took some flak for running poorly at the combine, but it’s clear that he plays a lot faster than his 4.6 time indicates. He had a great pro day last week and his athleticism and play-making ability will make the Bengals passing attack extremely difficult to contain.

22. Cleveland Browns – Dre Kirkpatrick – CB – Alabama

Dre Kirkpatrick started the 2011-12 offseason as a potential top 15 pick. However, his run in with the law and a mediocre combine (including reportedly lackluster interviews) have dropped him a little. The Browns need a WR to help Colt McCoy, but they can grab one pretty easily in the 2nd round – plus none of the remaining WR’s are great value here. Kirkpatrick is a good fit lining up opposite Joe Haden, and could potentially shift to safety where the Browns are thin.

23. Detroit Lions – Janoris Jenkins – CB – North Alabama

A lot has been made of Janoris Jenkins’ off-field and character issues. However, someone will take a chance on him in the 1st and the Lions seem like a good fit for his skills. Detroit has a fair bit of talent on defense, but lack the DB’s necessary to contain the top NFC passing attacks. Jenkins talent has never been in question, if he had a clean character, he could potentially be a top 10 pick. Taking a gamble on him here makes a lot of sense for the Lions.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Jonathan Martin – OT – Stanford

The Steelers could go in a number of directions at #24. They could use a ILB to replace James Farrior – Dont’a Hightower could be a fit. They could also add a DB, NT or OG. Even a RB isn’t totally out of the question, though probably unlikely until round 2 or 3. However, they will be very hard pressed to pass up Jonathan Martin at this spot. Some questions have come up about Martin since a lackluster pro day which could cause him to slide to this point of the 1st round. If he’s there in the final third of the round, Pittsburgh won’t let him get past them.

25. Denver Broncos – Devon Still – DT – Penn State

The Broncos have made the biggest news of the offseason, adding Peyton Manning and shipping out Tim Tebow. However, they lost Brodrick Bunkley to the Saints and really need to upgrade their interior DL. Devon Still has a nice combo of strength and athleticism for his size and could be a true impact player along Denver’s line.

26. Houston Texans – Rueben Randle – WR – LSU

WR is an obvious need for Texans with the team having few other glaring holes. Finding a quality #2 WR to take some pressure off Andre Johnson is a must for Houston. Randle fits the offensive scheme pretty well and possesses good size and pretty good speed. He would make the already dangerous Texans offense even more potent.

27. New England Patriots – Andre Branch – DE – Clemson

Even before losing Mark Anderson to AFC East rival Buffalo the Patriots needed to upgrade their edge-rusher situation. It looks likely that the Patriots will move back to more 3-4 looks in 2012 and Andre Branch would look very good lined up opposite Rob Ninkovich at OLB. He has the size and length that coach Belichick covets and gives the Pats the OLB/DE they have sorely missed since Willie McGinest left half a decade ago.

28. Green Bay Packers – Kendall Reyes – DT – Connecticut

The Packers struggled to replace Cullen Jenkins last year and Mike Neal is constantly hurt (and now suspended). Kendall Reyes is a late riser who has good feet and strength. He should turn out to be an excellent 5-technique in the NFL and will look great lined up next to B.J. Raji.

29. Baltimore Ravens – Mark Barron – SS – Alabama

Ed Reed can’t play forever and the Ravens’ other options at safety aren’t great. Barron is a tough player who fits what they do defensively and has the right attitude to succeed in Baltimore. Other options could include a ILB like Dont’a Hightower or OL help.

30. San Francisco 49ers – Coby Fleener – TE – Stanford

The 49ers have added some intriguing weapons for Alex Smtih – Randy Moss and Mario Manningham – but they are still lacking a reliable red-zone threat other than Vernon Davis. It’s possible Moss could recapture his 2007-2009 form, but San Francisco could stand to add some over-the-middle options to complement their outside threats. Fleener should be able to fit in quickly, having played under coach Harbaugh in college.

31. New England Patriots – Harrison Smith – SS – Notre Dame

The Patriots have done a nice job filling some holes in free agency but still have a glaring need at safety. Pat Chung is a solid starter but often banged up. Other internal options Sergio Brown and recently signed Steve Gregory are not guys you want starting on a potential playoff team. Harrison Smith has been climbing draft boards after showing off some good skills and interviewing well at the Combine. He’s the smart, tough type player Bill Belichick loves.

32. New York Giants – Dont’a Hightower – ILB – Alabama

The defending Super Bowl champs don’t have a ton of holes to fill, and usually just go with the best player available. Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower can fill one of the Giants’ few true needs – MLB – and also represents the best player on the board at this point. A hard nosed, down-hill linebacker, Hightower will solidify the middle of New York’s D.

 

Mock Draft V. 2.0

January 11, 2012 Leave a comment

(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. Indianapolis ColtsAndrew Luck, 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. St. Louis RamsJustin Blackmon, 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 Robert Griffin III.

3. Minnesota VikingsMatt Kalil, 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 Joe Thomas/Jake Long class but he’s close. He can start from day 1 and protect young QB Christian Ponder’s blindside for the foreseeable future

4. Cleveland Browns – 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. Colt McCoy 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. Tampa Bay BuccaneersMorris Claiborne, CB, LSU

Aqib Talib 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. Ronde Barber is near retirement. Claiborne can be the cornerstone on an otherwise awful defense.

6. Washington RedskinsRyan Tannehill, 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. Jacksonville JaguarsRiley Reiff, OT, Iowa

Despite spending some recent high picks on OL, the Jaguars are shaky up front. As their fans found out last year, Blaine Gabbert 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. Carolina PanthersQuinton Coples, 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. Miami Dolphins – 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. Buffalo BillsDre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

The Bills have a few holes they need to fill but CB is amongst the most pressing. Terrence McGee has battled injuries the last 2 years and neither Leodis McKelvin nor Drayton Florence 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 Brandon Marshall.

11. Kansas City ChiefsDavid DeCastro, 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 since Chris Naeole in 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 Jamaal Charles and company.

12. Seattle SeahawksDevon Still, 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 Brandon Mebane.

13. Arizona CardinalsKendall Wright, 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 and Andre Roberts probably 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 Larry Fitzgerald.

14. Dallas CowboysAlfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska

Terence Newman 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 Prince Amukamara was last year, he’s pretty close in ability.

15. Philadelphia EaglesLuke Kuechly, 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. New York Jets Courtney Upshaw, DE/LB, Alabama

The Jets have needed a pass-rusher for awhile, and while Aaron Maybin provided 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. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland)- Trent Richardson, 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” Cedric Benson and Richardson should be able to immediately come in and take some pressure off young Andy Dalton.

18. San Diego Chargers Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis

The Chargers could be hoping that David DeCastro slides this far, as they need a replacement for Kris Dielman but that scenario seems unlikely at this point. Antonio Garay 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. Chicago Bears Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina

It’s no secret that the Bears need a WR. They haven’t had a franchise receiver in forever and Jay Cutler needs 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. Tennessee TitansWhitney Mercilus, 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 rounder Derrick Morgan has been a disappointment and neither Dave Ball nor William Hayes 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 – Mark Barron, S, Alabama

After their playoff loss to the Texans, current safety Chris Crocker is 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 Leon Hall coming off an Achilles tendon injury and Nate Clements on the wrong side of 30.

22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta)- Lamar Miller, 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. Montario Hardesty 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. Detroit Lions – Zach Brown, OLB, UNC

The Lions got some surprising production from 2011 free agent acquisitions Justin Durant and Stephen Tulloch but DeAndre Levy 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. Pittsburgh Steelers – Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama

James Farrior 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, Lawrence Timmons.

25. Denver BroncosStephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

Champ Bailey is old, though still productive. The rest of Denver’s CB’s aren’t starter material. Andre Goodman has been targeted frequently and effectively by opposing QB’s. Cassius Vaughn, Jonathan Wilhite 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. New York GiantsCordy Glenn, G/T,  Georgia

The Giants OL proved to be shaky in protecting Eli Manning at times and unreliable at opening running lanes for Ahmad Bradshaw 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. Houston TexansMichael Floyd, 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 opposite Andre Johnson and 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. San Francisco 49ersMohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers

San Francisco has been searching for a top WR for a long time. Michael Crabtree 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. Baltimore RavensZebrie Sanders, 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, Bryant McKinnie is getting up in years, Michael Oher hasn’t fulfilled his potential and Ben Grubbs 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. Green Bay Packers – 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 to B.J. Raji but grabbing a guy like Perry to play opposite Clay Matthews 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. New England PatriotsFletcher Cox, 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) – Peter Konz, 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 and Dan Connolly have 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

Pass Rushing Class Of 2012 Has Tough Act To Follow

January 3, 2012 Leave a comment

Aldon Smith, Von Miller, Jabaal Sheard, Adrian Clayborn, Ryan Kerrigan, Sam Acho – the 2011 draft class produced an impressive number of guys who proved to be effective in getting to the quarterback. In fact, the 2011 class had more sacks in their rookie year than any draft class since sacks became an official stat in 1982. While the 2012 class doesn’t appear to be as strong, there are still a few guys who could make an impact as pass rushers in their rookie year.

Before we take a look at the 2012 prospects, let’s take a closer look at the historic class of 2011. Rookie draftees piled up 117 sacks in 521 cumulative games played. That’s the most sacks all time for a rookie draft class and 4th best sacks per game. 36 different players tallied at least half a sack in 2011, with an average of 3.25 sacks per draftee – 2nd best next to the 1990 class (which included Renaldo Turnbull, Aaron Wallace, James Francis and Jimmie Jones). Here are how all the draft classes since 1982 stack up:

Sackrookies_medium

It’s extremely unlikely that the 2012 crop will come close to 2011’s results, but there are a few guys who could make an impact early. Here are 7 prospects who could could have immediate success as pass rushers in 2012:

Nick Perry (USC) – He’s coming off a 9.5 sack junior season with the Trojans and could end up being the premier pass rush prospect on many draft boards by the time the draft rolls around in April. He has an explosive first step, perhaps the best of any prospect in this class and can close on the QB as well as any of the top NFL pass rushers. There are some questions about his strength and ability to take on the bigger, more powerful NFL linemen, however he did perform well against some of the best OT’s in college football (including likely 2012 first rounder Jonathan Martin). Perry best fits in a 3-4 scheme as an OLB, although he probably could succeed at RE in a 4-3 scheme as well.

Vinny Curry (Marshall)– Perhaps the most accomplished pass rusher in the 2012 draft, Curry leaves school with 26.5 sacks under his belt. He’s not as quick off the ball as Perry, although possesses a stronger repertoire of pass rush moves. It looks as if Curry has bulked up a bit in the last year, which should bode well for him in the NFL. He has a terrific motor and could succeed in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 scheme. The biggest question about Curry is the level of competition he faced in school. Racking up sacks in Conference USA isn’t as impressive as doing it against elite college OL. In the Beef ‘O’ Brady Bowl, Curry was handled pretty well by the mediocre (at best) FIU offensive line. Had Curry played against better competition, he’d probably be a top 20 consideration. As it stands now, he is probably a 2nd rounder who could sneak into the very late 1st to a team like the Patriots.

Courtney Upshaw (Alabama) – The versatile Upshaw has been steadily rising up the 2012 draft board, partly due to the lack of premium pass rushing talent available. While some might project Upshaw to 3-4 ILB or 4-3 DE, his best role is probably at 3-4 OLB. He’s not a dynamic athlete like some rush linebackers, but makes up for it with excellent strength and an impressive bull-rush. He doesn’t project to a double-digit sack guy, but could be a steady 6-8 sack per year kind of guy in the right situation.

Whitney Mercilus (Illinois) – He led the country in sacks in 2011 with an impressive 16. However, it remains to be seen whether Mercilus can translate his success to the NFL. While he is pretty good at getting leverage off the snap, he tends to break down a bit through contact and can get driven out of plays by stronger offensive linemen. A lot of his sacks came when he was able to pin his ears back and get after the QB without having to worry about playing the run. That could be partly due to his inexperience, but he looks like a guy who will start his career as a situational pass rusher while he develops his run-stopping. There are also some questions about his best position, as he seems to look lost and stiff when he is playing in space. Teams who run a 3-4 would probably best look elsewhere, unless he shows well in linebacker drills at the Combine.

Brandon Jenkins (Florida State)– A good athlete with an excellent motor, Jenkins is perhaps the most natural 3-4 OLB pass rusher in this class (as far as DE conversion projects go). The big question about Jenkins is his strength, as he probably won’t be able to rely solely on his athleticism in the pros. He might not be strong enough initially to succeed against quality LT’s. He has a decent array of pass rush moves and despite having a somewhat disappointing 2011 season, should still end up in the top 40 picks in 2012 (if he declares).

Melvin Ingram (South Carolina) – The toughest part about projecting Ingram’s pass-rush ability is figuring out where he’ll play in the pros. At approximately 6’1 275, he doesn’t really fit the prototypical size of NFL position. He might end up as an OLB in a 3-4, although he might lack the length that a lot of teams prefer. He could potentially move inside (a la Karl Klug who had success as a “tweener” rookie with the Titans) although he’d probably would need to bulk up a bit. His ability to play DE in a 4-3 is questionable, as he’s a bit short and might lack the athleticism to play RE. Despite these concerns, he has a great motor and a knack for making big plays at big moments. He should come off the board somewhere between picks 25-50 although the lack of a true position might cause him to slide.

Quinton Coples (UNC) – He definitely has the power and first step to be a successful pass rusher in the NFL. The big questions surrounding Coples are: where does he best fit and can he be consistently motivated? He could potentially fit inside in a 4-3 or at LE. He probably doesn’t have the athleticism and explosiveness to have great success at RE in the pros – although he might be able to do it in the right scheme. He could also potentially fit as a 3-4 5-technique (DE). In that sense, he has the versatility of guys like Calais Campbell or Richard Seymour – especially if Coples can bulk up a little.

Pre-Bowl Mock Draft

December 13, 2011 Leave a comment

(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.

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