(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)
Just four days to go until the 2012 NFL draft. Here is another look at how things could shake out next week:
1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
With the Colts already announcing they intend to choose Luck, there is no suspense in the first pick of this year’s draft.
2. Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
With Luck headed to Indianapolis, Griffin will be headed to the nation’s capital. He could be the first true “franchise QB” the Redskins have had in a long, long time. He better be, given the package of picks Washington traded for him.
3. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil, OT, Southern California
There has been growing belief that Kalil could slip past Minnesota here, but it would still be a surprise to me if the Vikings pass up the best LT in this draft. They could go with Justin Blackmon, but protecting Christian Ponder has to be a top priority and current LT Charlie Johnson just isn’t up to the task
4. Cleveland Browns – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Colt McCoy probably isn’t going to be the guy to take the Browns where they want to go so the question becomes: do they give McCoy one more year with a premier offensive talent like Justin Blackmon or Trent Richardson, or do they grab a potential franchise QB now? I don’t think the Browns can pass on Tannehill here and still have another first rounder to add a RB or WR.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Talented but troubled Aqib Talib is probably on the way out and Ronde Barber is ancient. Claiborne is an ideal pick for the young Tampa Bay defense. It would be very surprising if Claiborne was available here and the Bucs passed on him. Trent Richardson is the only other guy who could make some sense but grabbing a CB has to be a higher priority than a RB.
6. St. Louis Rams – Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
It’s assumed that the Rams will grab Justin Blackmon if he’s available at #6 but new coach Jeff Fisher loves to build his defense, especially with DT’s who can disrupt the pass. Cox didn’t have an off-the-charts Combine, but he is an ideal 4-3 3-technique who can get after the QB and hold his own in the run game. He will give St. Louis the talent on the interior DL that they’ve lacked for a number of years.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars – Melvin Ingram, OLB, South Carolina
Another spot where Justin Blackmon could go but the Jaguars choose to address their pass rush after adding some veteran depth at WR in the offseason. Currently the Jags only pass rusher is hard-working Jeremy Mincey – who is productive but isn’t a guy offenses have to gameplan for. Ingram had dynamic pass-rushing ability and gives the Jaguars some much needed athleticism at DE
8. Miami Dolphins – Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
There aren’t many teams who have had worse offseasons than the Dolphins. Their big weakness heading into the 2012 season was their passing game. They traded their #1 WR (Brandon Marshall) and have gone yet another offseason without adding a franchise QB. Unless they trade up for Tannehill, they will be relying on veteran mediocrities at QB for the next year or two. Blackmon will allow them to get the most out of Matt Moore or David Garrard and gives the Dolphins a much needed boost to their thin WR corps.
9. Carolina Panthers – Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
The Panthers could go in a number of directions at #9 but Michael Floyd is the best player on the board at this point and might be a better prospect than Justin Blackmon. Combined with Steve Smith, Cam Newton will have an exciting duo of WR’s with which to shred opposing secondaries.
10. Buffalo Bills – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The Bills would probably like to have snagged Floyd or Blackmon, but with both off the board they have to address their weakness at OT – a spot which was a problem before losing Demetress Bell to Philadelphia a few weeks ago. Reiff gives the Bills a long-term solution at LT and should help keep Ryan Fitzpatrick upright. A CB like Stephon Gilmore could be a possibility here as well.
11. Kansas City Chiefs – Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
It would be surprising if Richardson falls this far. Chances are that if he gets past Tampa Bay at #5, someone will trade up for him. However, if he is on the board at #11, the Chiefs won’t pass up on him. Jamaal Charles is coming off of a serious injury and Thomas Jones is at the end of the line. If the Chiefs can’t run the ball, they aren’t going to win many games because Matt Cassel isn’t going to be able to carry the team. Richardson gives the Chiefs an exciting weapon and keeps Kansas City’s running game at the top of the NFL.
12. Seattle Seahawks – Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
David Hawthorne is in New Orleans and the Seahwaks don’t have great internal options with which to replace him. It’s possible Seattle slides K.J. Wright inside, but they’d still have a big hole in their LB corps. Kuechly has some versatility and should be a very productive player for coach Carroll. DL help is also on Seattle’s wishlist, so a guy like Devon Still or Nick Perry is an option as well.
13. Arizona Cardinals – David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
The Cardinals OL is perpetually a problem and DeCastro is easily the best OL on the board at this point. It would be a surprise if Arizona passed on the Stanford guard – who projects as the best interior OL to be drafted in a decade. The Cardinals do have a lot of other needs, including at WR (Kendall Wright could be an option) and at LB.
14. Dallas Cowboys – Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse
One of the first big surprises of the draft, the Cowboys go with an OLB to play opposite DeMarcus Ware. Incumbent Anthony Spencer was franchise tagged and none too happy about it. Even if he plays under his franchise tender, he probably isn’t a long-term solution for Dallas. Chandler Jones has a ton of upside, despite inconsistent production at college. The Cowboys need playmakers on D and Jones has the ability to wreak havoc on opposing QB’s while having the potential to drop into coverage at the LB spot. Mark Barron or a DE could be an option as well.
15. Philadelphia Eagles – Devon Still, DT, Penn State
Andy Reid loves to build his lines and he needs to add some talent and youth to his interior DL. While Fletcher Cox has been the trendy pick for the Eagles, he projects to be long gone by the time Philadelphia comes on the clock. Devon Still has a lot of upside and is the well-rounded type of player that Philadelphia needs. While he’s not an elite pass-rusher, nor an imposing run-stuffer, Still has a lot of ability and can contribute as a 3-down player.
16. New York Jets – Mark Barron, SS, Alabama
The Jets need help in a number of spots. Their edge-rusher spot is lacking, they could use another RB, a dynamic talent at WR and help on the right side of their OL. However, their safety spot is a black hole and Mark Barron is too good of a value for them to pass up. The Jets cannot expect to wrest the AFC East title from the Patriots without adding some talent and depth at safety. The aggressive Jets front office might even be willing to go so far as to trade up for Barron if they feel they can’t get him at #16.
17. Cincinnati Bengals – Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
Andre Caldwell is in Denver and Jerome Simpson is unsigned and has serious off-field problems. Andy Dalton could really benefit from a playmaker opposite A.J. Green. He disappointed at the Combine, but make no mistake – Wright has serious big-play ability.
18. San Diego Chargers – Nick Perry, DE, Southern California
The Chargers badly need a pass-rusher, as Shawne Merriman’s glory years are a distant memory at this point and they’ve struggled to address the position recently. Nick Perry is a bit of a wildcard in this draft, with the upside to go in the top 10 but he could also slide to the late 1st. He has an explosive first step and the athleticism to beat quality offensive tackles. He could use some refinement in his technique, and will have to develop additional pass-rush moves, but his talent level is amongst the best in this class if you need a guy to attack the QB.
19. Chicago Bears – Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
New GM Phil Emery has given QB Jay Cutler some new toys on offense and has filled a lot of the team’s needs on that side of the ball, though questions remain on the OL. The Bears defense needs an influx of youth, especially along the DL. Dontari Poe has the massive size that will remind long-time Bears fans of former All Pro Ted Washington, though Poe has more athleticism. Some questions remain about Poe’s lack of production in college (against mediocre competition) and his overall football IQ and instincts, but his combination of size and athleticism is too good to slip too much farther in the draft.
20. Tennessee Titans – Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Center and DE have to be atop the Titans wishlist and coach Munchak has implied that he doesn’t want to go interior OL early. Whitney Mercilus has been the popular pick here but Quinton Coples could be an option as well – providing less flash but a more well-rounded and versatile skill set. If Coples can live up to his sky-high potential, he could be a huge steal at #20 – though it wouldn’t be a surprise if he slips past this spot in the draft.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Even with Terrance Newman added, the Bengals D needs help in the secondary and Gilmore is a natural fit for their defensive scheme. While he needs a lot of work to smooth out his technique problems (especially his footwork), he has the most exciting upside of any DB in this draft outside of Morris Claiborne. If Leon Hall can’t regain his pre-injury form, Gilmore could be a long-term #1 CB in Cincinnati. Otherwise, he will help give the Bengals a top CB pairing.
22. Cleveland Browns – Courtney Upshaw, DE, Alabama
The Browns need a playmaker at WR or RB. However, Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw might be too good of a value to pass up here. While his pass-rushing ability is probably a bit overrated, he still offers a ton of upside as a well-rounded 4-3 DE. The Browns added Frostee Rucker to play opposite Jabaal Sheard, but Rucker isn’t a long term option and is more of a rotational player anyway. Adding Upshaw to an already talented DL could make the Browns front line the best young unit in the league.
23. Detroit Lions – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Lions have a solid young defense but really need a quality player in their defensive backfield. Dre Kirkpatrick could be the 2nd best CB in this class and will help solidify a secondary which has lacked top-end players for a long time.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia
The Steelers OL has been a major problem for awhile and they cannot pass up the talented, massive and athletic Georgia OL. Cordy Glenn gives Pittsburgh some versatility, with the ability to play either RT or RG in the pros. Pittsburgh could also choose to infuse some youth into their defense, with an ILB like Dont’a Hightower or a DB – possibly even an OLB as the Steelers love to collect pass-rushers
25. Denver Broncos – Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
There are few prospects as polarizing as Brockers in this year’s first round. You either love him or hate him. The redshirt sophomore has a lot of potential but his production is lacking and he didn’t impress in the offseason workouts. That said, the Broncos interior DL is desperately in need of talent and Brockers could be the guy they need to improve the unit. Other options could include Jerel Worthy or Kendall Reyes.
26. Houston Texans – Dont’a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
The Texans traded starting ILB Demeco Ryans and didn’t replace him externally. Wade Phillips’ already stout and impressive defense could use a guy like Hightower who plays with the hard-hitting and aggressive demeanor than Phillips loves. A #2 WR is also a distinct possibility, with Stephen Hill or Rueben Randle being possible options
27. New England Patriots – Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State
It’s tough to see Bill Belichick passing up on McClellin – not only because the Patriots’ OLB are easily the worst of any serious playoff contender, but because McClellin is the versatile type of defender that Belichick loves. The Boise State LB can line up inside, outside, in either a 4-3 or 3-4, he can drop into coverage or rush the QB. The only concern here is McClellin’s 3 concussions. It’s possible some teams could have him off their board due to concerns about his health.
28. Green Bay Packers – Whitney Mercilus, OLB, Illinois
The Packers have needed a player to rush the QB opposite Clay Matthews for awhile now. Mercilus may or may not be able to move to OLB from his collegiate spot at DE. However, in a scheme like Dom Capers’ attacking 3-4, he will be able to pin his ears back and use his athleticism to get after the QB frequently. The Packers could also go with a 5-technique DE here – Kendall Reyes or Jerel Worthy.
29. Baltimore Ravens – Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
Even with Torrey Smith en tow, the Ravens could use another young receiver to give them some big play ability on offense. Baltimore has few pressing needs and can afford to roll the dice a little on a project like Hill – whose upside could be higher than any onther WR in the draft. An interior OL like Peter Konz could make a lot of sense as well.
30. San Francisco 49ers – Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
Coby Fleener might be getting a bit overrated, due to the success of other mobile TE’s. However, he projects as a reliable intermediate threat who can contribute in the red-zone. The 49ers could use some help in that area, as Vernon Davis can’t do it all himself and their WR’s aren’t great short-area options. Plus, Fleener played under coach Harbaugh and should be able to learn San Francisco’s offense quickly
31. New England Patriots – Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut
The Patriots have filled a lot of needs this offseason, but haven’t found a quality interior lineman (4-3 DT or 3-4 DE) to line up next to Vince Wilfork. Reyes is flying under the radar a bit, but he has the athleticism to push the pocket as well as the strength and length to hold up in coach Belichick’s 2-gap scheme
32. New York Giants – Doug Martin, RB, Boise State
Brandon Jacobs is gone and Ahmad Bradshaw isn’t the most reliable of backs. Boise State’s Doug Martin is a very well rounded back who gives the Giants the versatility they covet in the backfield. Martin projects as a 3 down back who can both pick up tough yards and contribute in the passing game.
Two and a half weeks to go and at this point there isn’t much news to report. 90% of news that you read between now and April will either be a fabrication (either by team sources blowing smoke or by “experts” looking to generate clicks/views). Almost all prospects have been graded, watched endlessly on tape, dissected, worked out, run through medical tests and had their character evaluated thoroughly. If you’re a die hard draftnik, or spend your life evaluating talent, your board should be about set by now. With that in mind, here are 17 quick hit musings – one for each day until the draft:
1. Running back David Wilson might have tantalizing athleticism, but don’t confuse him for a 3-down back just yet. He has a long way to go in pass protection and route running before any team uses him in obvious passing situations.
2. I previously mentioned Boise State’s Shea McClellin and Doug Martin as possible late 1st rounders who are flying under the radar (though NFL Network featured both as potential 1st rounders last week, so I guess the cat is out of the bag on these guys). Their teammate, Billy Winn, could be the best of the trio if he lands in the right scheme. Winn is a well-balanced 4-3 3-technique who could play 5-technique in a 1-gap attacking scheme. I don’t like him quite as much for a 2-gap scheme, he’s probably stout enough to anchor in the run game, but he’s just a bit undersized compared to what the (few) remaining 2-gap 3-4 defenses like in their 5-technique DE’s. With the prevalence of 3-4 schemes, I doubt Winn gets out of the top 50 picks.
3. Cincinnati DE/DT Derek Wolfe looks like a 2nd rounder who is a bit tough to project to an NFL scheme. He has the length to succeed as a 2-gap DE but his weight fluctuations this offseason have been borderline alarming. Somehow, he managed to lose 15 lbs between the Combine and his pro day. If he can bulk up, and stay bulked up, he could be a solid contributor in the NFL but he will have to get by on effort more than athletic ability. He appears to be a better rotational/backup type than a long-term starter.
4. Coby Fleener is being touted as a potential first round prospect, and it’s understandable to some degree. He projects as a quality receiver who can do enough in the blocking game to be a full-time player. That said, guys like Fleener remind us how rare Rob Gronkowski is. One would have to think that a TE with Gronkowski’s physical tools, blocking ability and hands would be a sure-fire top 15 pick this year.
5. Dontari Poe seems to have fallen out of favor of some lately. With good coaching, he could be an absolutely dominant player for a long time. That said, it’s tough to teach instincts and Poe seems to really lack them. Any GM that talks himself into drafting Poe is doing so with the hope that the massive DT’s lack of awareness is a matter of being raw rather than a fundamental lack of football IQ. Drafting guys with questionable instincts is a good way to ensure you don’t stay employed long in an NFL front office. GM’s on the hot seat would be best served to stay away from Dontari Poe.
6. It’s curious that 3 months ago, when NFL mock draft season began in earnest, UNC LB Zach Brown was being mocked to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the #4 pick. With less than 3 weeks to go, most mocks have Brown being available when the Bucs come on the clock in the 2nd round. While Brown didn’t blow people away at the Combine the way some thought he might, he hasn’t done anything this offseason to warrant such a wild swing in opinion. If you liked Brown in January, it’s tough not to like him now. If you saw him (like Poe) as a guy without the mental tools to make in the NFL a few months ago, he should still be off your radar. I still think he is worth a 1st rounder, though not in the top half of the round.
7. I’m surprised that more teams don’t take shots on mid/late round QB’s. While these guys almost never work out, it’s much tougher to find a “hidden gem” QB on the waiver wire than it is to find career backups and special teamers – which is what most 3rd-7th round non-QB’s turn out to be.
8. If there is a “WTF” moment of the 1st round, I expect it will involve a linebacker. One name to keep in mind: Mychal Kendricks. Few players have seen as meteoric of a rise in their draft as he has. The incredibly weak LB crop has convinced some people that Kendricks is worth a top 40 pick. Kendricks is often being projected to an inside spot, but his lack of size leads me to think that his best spot could be WILL in a 4-3 scheme. Drafting him as a MIKE in the top 50 picks would be a mistake in my book.
9. A guy who will go earlier than you might think: Bobby Massie. Don’t be surprised if he is the 4th OT, maybe even the 3rd, off the board. He has late 1st round value and could be a steal in the early 2nd round if he lasts that far.
10. You might have never heard of him but University of Regina DT Akiem Hicks could be a guy we are all talking about as a huge steal 5 years from now. He has a lot working against him – off field issues, poor level of competition, sloppy technique – however, he flashes game-changing ability. From a purely “tools” standpoint, there isn’t much difference between Hicks and Poe. At 6’5 325 and with an explosive burst off the snap, Hicks could be a dominant player in the league if he lands in a situation with a strong defensive coaching staff and veteran leadership.
Just over three weeks until the 2012 NFL Draft and if you’re like me, you’re probably finishing up the touches on your draft board (or spreadsheet). Before you finish up your rankings though, here are 3 prospects who will probably go before you expect them to:
1. Shea McClellin – DE/OLB – Boise State – Tony Pauline already tipped a lot of folks off about McClellin’s first day chances and I am expecting the versatile edge player to come off the board before the Patriots make their 2nd selection (31st overall). The spread of sub-package heavy defenses – many teams play sub upwards of 65% of the time – make versatile pass rushers like McClellin a hot commodity. However, the reason he will go higher than you expect is not his ability to get to the QB but his ability to drop into coverage that he displayed at the Senior Bowl. With “move” tight ends becoming an increasing trend in NFL offenses, defensive coordinators will love McClellin’s coverage potential. He’s not the most experienced coverage LB, and he definitely needs some technique refinement, but he flashes good hips and footwork. He will draw comparisons to a lot of edge players (both past and present) but the guy he reminds me a bit of is Tedy Bruschi. Like the former Patriots LB, McClellin is a guy who can line up all over the field but will probably start his career as a situational edge player – playing both standing up and with his hand down. Also similar to Bruschi, I see McClellin as a long-term “tweener” between ILB and OLB in a 3-4 alignment whose college passrushing will never quite translate to the pros. He’ll probably top out around 5-6 sacks but be immensely valuable as a jack of all trades in a team’s front 7.
2. Doug Martin – RB – Boise State – McClellin’s teammate at college, Martin is the 2nd back on my board. That’s not to say he has the 2nd highest (behind Trent Richardson) upside. Martin doesn’t strike me as a truly elite back who will rack up All Pro or Pro Bowl appearances. However, what he lacks in flash and ceiling he makes up for in versatility and completeness. No other back, outside of Richardson, has as well rounded of a skill set as Martin. Unlike some other 2nd tier RB’s, Martin has good hands out of the backfield and can hold up in pass protection. Similarly, while other 2nd tier RB’s might have better 40 yard times, Martin’s vision is amongst the best in this class. While a late 1st round pick is probably too rich for a back like Martin, it wouldn’t surprise me if some team trades up from the early 2nd round to get him. Worst case scenario, I don’t see him getting past the early stages of round 2.
3. Marvin Jones – WR – Cal – This year’s draft is positively loaded with 2nd tier WR’s. There could be a nearly unprecedented number of receivers come off the board in rounds 2 and 3. One guy who is getting lost in the shuffle a bit is Marvin Jones. He’s not the best physical specimen, a bit wiry in frame, but he has an excellent (and underrated) NFL skill set. He comes from a pro style offense and has can run option routes – something many young receivers need time to learn. His hands are amongst the best in the draft and he runs fairly clean routes, coming in and out of his breaks with the crispness needed to separate from NFL defenders. He isn’t without flaws obviously, and his lack of strength could really hurt his chances of playing on the outside in the NFL. However, as a slot receiver or in a spread style offense, he could be a dangerous threat on short passes and quick slants. He’s not afraid to take a shot over the middle and can hang on the ball even after a big hit. He also has the speed to slip get behind a defense if they don’t jam him at the line. A team like the Patriots or Packers would probably love to grab Jones in round 3, but he will be gone by the time the end of that round comes along. I expect him to be a top 75 pick who could go as early as late round 2.
1. Tony Pauline recently noted that Shea McClellin could sneak into the end of round 1 to the Patriots or Packers (among others). It wouldn’t surprise me – after all, he fits what those teams need and look for in an OLB. He strikes me as the type of player whose upside is “consistently good, reliable starter” and not “game changing playmaker”. Those are the types of guys who seem great in a retrospective look at the draft years later but in the moment, it’s a tough sell if you think his upside is limited.
2. Mike Mayock has recently made news in draft circles for declaring Stephon Gilmore as the 2nd best CB in the draft and a potential top 10 pick. Mayock’s prediction about Gilmore’s NFL ability will probably only come true if Dre Kirkpatrick moves to safety and Janoris Jenkins can’t stay clean off the field. Gilmore needs a lot of coaching and technique refinement before he’s ready to be a quality NFL player.
3. Looking at the back portion of the draft, the three teams I feel have the most to gain from hitting a homerun (so to speak) in this draft are the Packers, Patriots and Texans. That’s not to say that other teams can’t improve themselves or turn themselves into legitimate Super Bowl contenders by adding a quality player or two – but those three teams each have a big hole or two and a game changing type talent could be the final piece of the puzzle. The Pats and Packers need an impact front 7 type and the Texans need a #2 WR to take some pressure off Andre Johnson.
4. I know Ryan Kalil is the fashionable pick for the Vikings at #3 (and I mock him there myself) but I’m starting to think the Vikings will have the first surprise of Day 1 by either selecting Justin Blackmon or trading the pick to a team who covets Ryan Tannehill.
5. Stephen Hill has to be in the top 3 most “boom or bust” players of this draft. He is either going to be a matchup nightmare and enjoy a Pro Bowl caliber career, or he will be out of the league by 2015. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground.
6. Most mock drafts have stuck with projecting only one 1st round RB (Trent Richardson). If there is a 2nd to go, my money’s on Doug Martin via a late trade up to pick #27-32 from a team drafting early in round 2.
7. The closer to the draft we get, the more muddled the 2nd tier of WR’s is becoming. None of the early favorites for #3 WR off the board have established themselves (Alshon Jeffery, Rueben Randle, Mohamed Sanu, Dwight Jones, Kendall Wright).
8. Speaking of Alshon Jeffery, as good as he looked in his workout yesterday, what are the chances he stays that motivated in the pros?
9. Amini Silatolu – like Martin and McClellin, he’s another guy I could see sneaking into the end of round 1.
10. The Dolphins need to get a QB in this draft. Matt Moore is probably good enough to get them into 7-9 win territory. Good luck getting a franchise QB next year with that type of record – it’s possible, but not an enviable position. If they think there’s even a 50% chance Tannehill is a franchise type prospect, they should pull the trigger.
11. Dont’a Hightower has seemingly fallen off the map when it comes to 1st round consideration but my money’s on him going to one of the 2011 playoff teams at the end of round 1. If he makes it to round 2, he won’t last long.
12. Dontari Poe has some of the worst awareness I’ve seen for a top 10 consideration. His size and athleticism are tempting but he looks completely lost a lot of the time – against inferior competition no less.