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2012 Draft Recap: AFC East

There are few things more amusing in football than the seemingly obsessive need draft followers and football fans have to assign draft classes a grade right after the draft. Between now and the time these guys’ rookie contracts expire (2015 and 2016), things will change significantly from the way they appear now. Most such grades come from this thought process:

1. What did I feel was the team’s biggest need or 2

2. Did they fill those needs via the early or mid parts of the draft? If no, the team gets a bad grade. If yes, see #3

3. Did they fill those needs with players I like based on scouting reports (either personal, or taken from websites/”experts”)

4. If yes, team gets an A or B. If not, team gets a B- or C

5. Did team take a guy I personally liked or had as a “sleeper”. If yes, increase grade one half-grade.

6. Did team take a guy I personally disliked, viewed as a likely bust or considered overrated? If yes, decrease grade one half-grade

How many websites and analysts gave the Cardinals a good grade after snagging Matt Leinart in 2006? Or the Browns an “A” after maneuvering to get not only Joe Thomas, but Brady Quinn in 2007? In 2004, Mel Kiper had this to say about the Minnesota Vikings draft, which he graded as an “A”:

Kenechi Udeze, Dontarrious Thomas and Darrion Scott will help immensely for a team that needed speed on defense, particularly speed outside off the edge. Nat Dorsey and Mewelde Moore were my top two players available on Day 2 and the Vikings got them both. Rod Davis will also help the front seven and Deandre Iland is a versatile defensive back, while Jeff Dugan is a strong blocker at the tight end spot.

Needless to say, not even the biggest Vikings fan could give their 2004 class a grade better than a C- in retrospect.

So while I don’t partake in grading drafts,  I do have plenty of thoughts on what transpired over the last few days. Starting in the AFC East:

New York Jets – I’m surprised that the Jets passed on the edge rushers who slid down the board, especially Chandler Jones and Melvin Ingram. Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan swung for the proverbial fences with their draft strategy this year, using their first two picks on big upside/big risk players. If Quinton Coples and Stephen Hill can realize their potential, the Jets will look brilliant. The problem is, they’re not in an environment conducive to doing so. Coples is a guy with a questionable motor and attitude, coming into a locker room which was toxic by a lot of reports.As for Hill, I’m not a fan of receivers with iffy hands and an inability to run routes and it will be interesting to see how he fits in with Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow lobbing him the ball on 9-routes. The Jets needed a RB badly to back up (or supplant) Shonn Greene but waited until snagging Terrance Ganaway in the 6th. However, Ganaway fits the Jets scheme pretty well, and he could be starting by year’s end. Demario Davis, Antonio Allen and Jordan White are a trio of later picks wh0 could really help. It wouldn’t surprise me if the best players from the Jets’ draft end up being from their assortment of day 3 picks. Undrafted players Donnie Fletcher, Ryan Steed and Brian Linthicum were prospects I felt could have been drafted. The Jets failure to add a RT was almost as surprising as passing on an edge rusher. That’s a decision that could come back and haunt them.

 

Buffalo Bills – I’m not a big fan of Stephon Gilmore, at least not at #10 overall. He’s got the talent to be a star, but will need a lot of work and coaching to realize his upside. Cordy Glenn was a surprising draft-day slider, but he could really struggle at LT if that’s where the Bills try him. On the right side of the line, he could be an excellent player though so we’ll have to see how that plays out. T.J. Graham was a bit of a wacky pick in a draft full of them, his speed is impressive but he might not be able to get off the line against physical DB’s. The Bills Day 3 haul netted them some bigger name players in Ron Brooks, Nigel Bradham, Tank Carder.  At the very least, they upgraded their special teams units with those guys though I think one or two could help out on defense (Brooks especially). Zebrie Sanders slid into their laps, but I’m not sure he has a place in the NFL. Undrafted Aaron Corp could turn into something, though he’s probably a practice squadder in 2012.

 

Miami Dolphins – I’ve bashed the Dolphins in the past for failing to get a franchise QB, so I can’t fault them for taking Ryan Tannehill. The rest of their draft underwhelmed me. Jonathan Martin, overrated to begin with, was drafted to play RT, a position he might not have the strength for. Lamar Miller was a surprising slider on draft day (due to rumored medical concerns) but where does he fit? I wasn’t a fan of Daniel Thomas last year and he didn’t do much to ally my doubts about him, but taking Miller (on top of having Reggie Bush) was a bit odd. I’m a big believer in taking the best guy on your board, but this is a team that traded away their #1 WR and failed to replace him. That they waited until the 6th round (B.J. Cunningham) in a WR-deep class to address the position was one of the most baffling decisions of the weekend. Perhaps they envision 3rd rounder Michael Egnew as guy who they can split out a lot of the time. I like Olivier Vernon, though he has big question marks. J0sh Kaddu is probably a special teams guy at best in the NFL. Like any draft class with a 1st round QB, the 2012 Dolphins draft will ultimately be judged on Tannehill’s success. If he flops, it will be difficult for this class to look good 3-4 years from now. If he realizes his (significant) upside, the rest of these picks don’t really matter. Myron Johnson, Kelcie McCray, Jeff Fuller, Jacquies Smith and Jonas Gray are undrafted guys who could stick.

 

New England Patriots – Just when you think you’ve figured out Bill Belichick, he goes and trades up (not down) twice in the first round. This after several drafts where he was criticized for trading down and missing on top defensive talent. Chandler Jones and 3rd rounder Jake Bequette are not only guys who should help improve the Pats pass-rush, but also have great upside as run-defenders. That helps a defense which had way too many 1-dimensional and situational type players last year, which ultimately killed them in the Super Bowl. Dont’a Hightower is the type of LB who would have fit well with the Patriots dynasty teams, a hard-hitter with a knack for big plays at big moments. 2nd rounder Tavon Wilson was the first of many strange picks league-wide in the 2nd-4th round. Many (most? all?) draft websites and analysts had Wilson as a late round or undrafted type talent and it was a shock to see him go so early. That it was so bizarre (not merely a 1 round reach by conventional scouting), tells me that Bill Belichick sees something very specific in Wilson that projects well to the Patriots’ scheme. While he’s missed plenty on defensive players in the draft (like any long-time GM), 8 Super Bowl appearances and 5 Super Bowl wins as a coach/coordinator buys you a lot of leeway. Especially when he is known for trading down and getting better value instead of reaching on players. That he stayed put and selected Wilson says a lot about how highly the Illinois CB/S was ranked on the Patriots board. The Pats didn’t have many other picks, but snagging Alfonzo Dennard in the 7th is a brilliant move. Even with his off-field issues, Dennard probably should have gone 100 picks earlier. Not grabbing an interior DL (4-3 DT or 3-4 DE) was a surprise, and could be indicative of the Pats running even more sub-packages than they did last year (about 60% of the time). Undrafted OL Jeremiah Warren was a guy I had as a mid-round sleeper and Markus Zusevics could have been a mid-rounder had he not torn his pectoral at the combine.

Overall, I don’t think we saw a power shift in the AFC East. The Patriots 2012 season will be defined as much by their young DB’s (Pat Chung, Devin McCourty and Ras-I Dowling) as their 2012 draftees. The Dolphins didn’t do much which makes them obviously better for next season, as Tannehill is probably headed for the bench behind David Garrard/Matt Moore. The Bills have had a solid off-season overall, and their rookie class should give them quality depth if not big contributors next year. The Jets haven’t done much this offseason to fix their biggest problems from 2012 and it’s unclear where they expect to get internal upgrades from, though a DL of Coples-Pouha-Wilkerson could be an imposing unit.

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 3.0

January 29, 2012 Leave a comment

(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)
The Senior Bowl is in the books and for all intents and purposes, the 2011 college football season is behind us. With less than a month until the scouting combine and less than three months until the draft, things are starting to come into focus a bit. Here’s a mock draft of how I see things shaking out if the draft were held today:

*Note that I am not projecting trades for the purposes of this mock draft

1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

No brainer. Next.

2. St. Louis Rams – Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

The Rams will likely lose Brandon Lloyd in free agency (he’s said he wants to follow Josh McDaniels, and the Patriots seem likely to be interested) and need to give Sam Bradford an elite weapon to utilize. St. Louis will probably try to move out of this pick, as there will be demand from QB-starved teams who covet Robert Griffin III. Sliding down a few spots should still allow the Rams to get their man Blackmon, who is the consensus #1 WR on the board.

3. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil, OT, USC

The Vikings could go in a few directions here. They could use a CB and perhaps even a WR if they love Blackmon and he is there. However, protecting 2nd year QB Christian Ponder has to be a priority. Matt Kalil has a high upside and should keep Ponder’s blindside clean for the foreseeable future

4. Cleveland Browns – Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Cleveland cannot pass on Griffin if the Baylor signal caller is sitting there at #4. Colt McCoy hasn’t established himself as a franchise guy and Griffin’s upside is too high to pass up for the mediocre McCoy. If Griffin goes #2, Blackmon could make some sense here for the Browns.

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

It remains to be seen whether or not new Bucs head coach Greg Schiano will want to deal with his troubled, but talented, CB Aqib Talib. Even if he is willing to give Talib a chance, Ronde Barber is nearing the end of his great career and the Bucs need quality DB’s to compete in the NFC South against the likes of Steve Smith, Julio Jones and Marques Colston. Claiborne is the top CB available and would be a welcome addition to an already young and promising defense.

6. Washington Redskins – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

The Redskins find themselves in no-man’s land here. Griffin is gone and their #2 need (WR) doesn’t give them good value. Washington seems like a good possibility to move up to grab Griffin, but if they stay put a talented OT like Riley Reiff makes a lot of sense. Jammal Brown hasn’t been able to get back to the level he was playing at before his hip injury a few years ago and could be on the way out. Reiff could bring long-term stability to the Redskins’ OL.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford

If the Jaguars want to develop 2nd year QB Blaine Gabbert, they need to do a better job in keeping him upright – as he got rattled early and often in 2011. Stanford’s Jonathan Martin is an instinctive and powerful blocker who did a great job keeping Andrew Luck upright over the last 3 years. Martin’s also a talented run blocker and should be able to open running lanes for the Jaguars’ talented Maurice Jones-Drew.

8. Carolina Panthers – Michael Brockers, DL, LSU

Brockers caught a lot of people off guard by declaring for the 2011 draft as a redshirt sophomore. He definitely is a raw prospect who will need some refinement before he realizes his immense upside. That said, Brockers is an extremely talented DT who can play inside in a 4-3 front or slide over to the 5-technique in a 3-4.  The young LSU DL has a great motor and uses his impressive lower body strength to power past OL in both the run and pass games. He’d provide the Panthers an elite presence in their interior line that they’ve lacked for many years.

9. Miami Dolphins – Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama

Upshaw measured in a little smaller than expected at the Senior Bowl, but he’s still the premier edge rusher in the 2012 draft. The Dolphins will most likely be shifting to a 4-3 next year and need a DE to play opposite Cameron Wake. Unless the Dolphins make a move to grab Griffin, and give themselves the franchise QB they’ve lacked since Dan Marino, Upshaw should be their guy

10. Buffalo Bills – Nick Perry, OLB, USC

The Bills will be reportedly staying with a 3-4 alignment (for now) and desperately need a pass-rushing presence to complement their talented DL (Kyle Williams, Marcel Dareus). Perry is a good looking pass rush prospect who could play standing up, or go back to DE if the Bills revert back to a 4-3 scheme.

11. Kansas City Chiefs – Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

Jamaal Charles is coming off a serious knee injury, Thomas Jones is old and Jackie Battle is mediocre. The Chiefs will likely remain a run-heavy team under now full-time coach Romeo Crennel. Richardson is an elite RB prospect with an excellent combination of vision, power and athleticism. While RB doesn’t make sense for a lot of teams in the 1st round, the Chiefs would greatly benefit from having a talented back like Richardson. If Charles comes back healthy, the Kansas City running attack would be a real force to be reckoned with.

12. Seattle Seahawks – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M

Like the Redskins, the QB starved Seahawks find themselves in an awkward spot. They could use an edge player to play in Pete Carroll’s “LEO” position, but there isn’t a great fit here at #12. Tannehill will strike some as a reach, but he has great upside and the Seahawks could try to skate by with Tarvaris Jackson for another year while Tannehill develops.

13. Arizona Cardinals – David DeCastro, OG, Stanford

The Cardinals find themselves in the opposite position of the Seahawks – they should have top players available at all of their positions of need. DeCastro is, perhaps, the best interior OL prospect in 15 years and could be the first guard since Chris Naeole to go in the top 10. If he’s sitting here at #13, he is close to a no-brainer for Arizona – who badly needs an upgrade on their OL. If they pass on DeCastro, a WR like Michael Floyd or Kendall Wright could make sense. A LB could also be in play here.

14. Dallas Cowboys – Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin

The Cowboys OL has been a problem for a long time and always seems to hold them back. They grabbed Tyron Smith in the 1st last year, and this year grab Wisconsin Badgers center Peter Konz. Current starting C Phil Costa is not a realistic long-term solution and upgrading that spot would go a long way to letting Tony Romo and the Cowboys’ offense realize their potential.

15. Philadelphia Eagles – Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

DeSean Jackson is unsigned and unlikely to come back. The Eagles haven’t had a quality “big” receiver for awhile and Michael Vick needs a reliable down-field target. The 6’3 220 lbs Notre Dame WR plays with good physicality and is athletic enough to consistently separate from defenders. Floyd also has good run-after-catch abilities and can contribute as a blocker in the run game.

16. New York Jets – Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama

The Jets need a big WR like Floyd or Alshon Jeffery, but Rex Ryan’s defense also needs an infusion of talent in the LB corps. Bart Scott is old, declining and a good bet to be a salary-cap casualty. Dont’a Hightower plays a downhill, hard-hitting style which fits well in New York’s scheme. He also has better athleticism than people give him credit for and is the premier 3-4 ILB in the draft.

17. Cincinnati Bengals – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

Leon Hall is coming off a serious Achilles injury and Nate Clements is a free agent after 2012. Kirkpatrick is a tough and aggressive CB who fits a big need for the Bengals. There is some talk that he might be a better fit at safety, which also is a need for the Bengals with Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson as underwhelming starters.

18. San Diego Chargers – Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina

Malcolm Floyd was a disappointment playing opposite of Vincent Jackson and the Chargers need an upgrade at WR. There will be plenty of questions about Jeffery’s athleticism and work ethic between now and the draft. If he checks out and runs well, he will likely end up in the mid 1st round. At #18, he is a good value for San Diego and would help Philip Rivers rebound from a mediocre 2011 season.

19. Chicago Bears – Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor

The Bears have needed an elite playmaking WR for a long, long time. Kendall Wright is shooting up draft boards now due to his speed and athleticism. He would give Jay Cutler a great deep threat and take some pressure off Matt Forte (if he returns) and the Bears’ running game.

20. Tennessee Titans – Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina

Coach Mike Munchak has stated his desire for a playmaker on defense. Zach Brown has elite speed and athleticism and is the best 4-3 WILL backer in the draft. Playing alongside 2nd year players Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy, Brown would give the Titans one of the youngest and promising LB corps in the NFL.

21. Cincinnati Bengals – Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia

The Bengals could use a RB to replace Cedric “3 yards and a cloud of dust” Benson but they could find better value in the 2nd or 3rd round. They need a boost along their offensive line and Cordy Glenn is an impressive prospect who has shown the ability to play a few spots along the line and an impressive run blocker. Playing in the physical AFC North, the Bengals would welcome a road grader like Cordy Glenn

22. Cleveland Browns – Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina

The Browns hit a home run in 2011, grabbing Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard to give them a pair of young talents on their DL. While they could use a playmaker on offense (perhaps Lamar Miller, David Wilson or Mohamed Sanu), passing on the talented-but-inconsistent Coples would be a mistake. He’d give the Browns an imposing defensive line which could wreak havoc in the AFC North for years to come

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

The Lions loss to the Saints in the playoffs demonstrated just how badly they need to upgrade their defensive backfield. Janoris Jenkins is an elite talent with a lot of off-field baggage who would go a long way in improving Detroit’s pass defense. If the Lions are comfortable with Jenkins’ character he will be too good to pass up at this point in the draft.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona

The Steelers need to replace the aging James Farrior. Burfict is a “love him or hate him” type of prospect. His athleticism isn’t in doubt, but his attitude and instincts have drawn a lot of criticism this year. Playing for the no-nonsense Mike Tomlin and alongside veterans like James Harrison, Burfict could mature into a star LB.

25. Denver Broncos – Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson

The Broncos have a few needs on defense, but could also benefit from giving Tim Tebow another weapon to use on offense. Allen is a well rounded TE prospect who can help block in the run-heavy Broncos offense and also give Tebow an excellent short/intermediate target to utilize. A CB such as Stephon Gilmore or Chase Minnifield could also make sense for Denver here.

26. Houston Texans – Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers

The Texans don’t have a ton of holes on either side of the ball. However, they could use someone to line up opposite star receiver Andre Johnson. Sanu has nice size (6’2 215) and pretty good athleticism. He is a fairly reliable target, with big soft hands and long arms to snatch errant throws. He’s not a polished route runner, but has pretty good quickness in and out of his breaks. He can line up either inside or outside and contribute in all areas of the field.

27. New England Patriots – Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis

A NT doesn’t seem to be atop the Pats’ wishlist. But coach Belichick is a believer in Bill Parcells’ “Planet Theory” – the idea that there aren’t a lot of large guys who are athletic enough to play (and play well) in the NFL. Dontari Poe is both very large and deceptively nimble for a 6’5 350 lbs DT. Drafting Poe would allow the Pats to slide Vince Wilfork to 5-technique in a 3-4 front, which they have done with some success over the last few years. In a 40 front, Poe could eat up blockers alongside Wilfork, replacing current Pats DT Kyle Love.

28. Green Bay Packers – Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska

Charles Woodson is getting old and Tramon Williams gave up more yardage than any other CB in the league. Alfonzo Dennard is a physical and tough CB who fits well with Dom Capers’ scheme. Dennard is a very talented DB who seems to be sliding a bit due to questions about his athleticism and speed. If he runs well at the combine, he is likely gone by the 28th pick. If he’s here, he has to be Green Bay’s pick.

29. Baltimore Ravens – Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State

The Ravens’ biggest needs, C and ILB don’t really match the value on the board. They could try to trade down or they could grab talented Ohio State OT Mike Adams. Michael Oher has been a disappointment at T and Jah Reid might not be the long term answer either. With a lot of wear on current LT Bryant McKinnie, the Ravens could stand to add some reinforcements up front.

30. San Francisco 49ers – Kelechi Osemele, OG, Iowa State

San Francisco was below average in protecting their QB and need to upgrade their OL. Osemele has a terrific package of size, strength and athleticism for an interior lineman. He is an aggressive run blocker who also plays well in the passing game. He’d fit in well in John Harbaugh’s offense. The 49ers could also consider a 2nd tier WR prospect here although they’d probably get better value in the 2nd round.

31. New England Patriots – Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia

The Pats need a boost in their secondary. Drafting a CB will allow New England to keep Devin McCourty at safety or perhaps shift 2011 2nd rounder Ras-I Dowling to FS to partner with Pat Chung. Minnifield’s father, Frank, played under coach Bill Belichick in the early 1990’s and Belichick is sure to like the younger Minnifield’s combination of size and athleticism.

32. New York Giants – Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

Every draft has a guy who slides a bit more than projected. While Kuechly is generally projected in the top 20 (and could very likely go there), it wouldn’t surprise me if he slides a little. He was extremely productive at Boston College, but is unlikely to impress in combine and pro day drills. The Giants, and former BC coach Tom Coughlin, love Boston College players and Kuechly would fit the Giants’ defense well.

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

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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