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Pre-Season Power Rankings: Part 1

August 13, 2012 Leave a comment

With the first week of pre-season in the books, it’s time for the first Power Rankings of the year. Here’s the bottom half of the league as I see it currently, though these rankings are sure to change as August rolls into September. At this point of the league year it’s tough to find much separation between the 20-25 middle-road teams. Other than the truly elite and truly awful teams, pre-season rankings really amount to how much the author likes each team’s young players, coach and QB. With that said, here is the bottom half of the league from my point of view:

17. Kansas City Chiefs
– Put a top QB on the Chiefs and they are arguably an elite team. Their defense was fairly stout down the stretch last season and responded well to new coach Romeo Crennel. There is a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, assuming Tony Moeaki, Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry can return to form after missing last year with injuries. Unlike AFC West rivals Oakland and San Diego, Kansas City seems more likely to exceed expectations than to disappoint. If Brian Daboll can get a good season from Cassel (questionable given the track records of both Daboll and Cassel), the Chiefs could see double-digit wins and a division championship. Even if Cassel struggles, they might be able to squeak out 9 or 10 wins if their running game can perform to 2010 levels.

18. Tennessee Titans
– The Titans, like the Bills, Chiefs and a few other teams, have a lot of nice pieces but it’s hard to project them to have a ton of success – though history tells us that one or more of the middle tier teams will put it all together and make a good run. Like those other teams, I can’t put them any higher than the middle of the pack due to their QB situation. Jake Locker is the future and probably a better bet than Matt Hasselbeck to lead the team to postseason glory but can he perform at the NFL level? The talent surrounding him is intriguing though it’s easy to be down on both Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt. Their defense has a good amount of talent despite not having many household names and the Titans could be well-balanced enough to make a run at their division if Locker can step up.

19. Buffalo Bills
– Their front 7 is certainly talented, despite the horrendous contract given to Mark Anderson. The rest of the team is still lacking high-end talent and they are still led by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chan Gailey. I don’t think 2012 will be the breakout year that Bills fans are hoping for, though 2nd place in the AFC East and an outside shot at the playoffs could be a possibility.

20. San Diego Chargers – With just about any other coach, the Chargers would have been higher up in my rankings. I just cannot take a Norv Turner coached team seriously. Especially a Norv Turner coached team with its worst talent level in a number of years. The Chargers are razor thin at a number of positions on both sides of the ball and are relying heavily on Ryan Mathews and Antonio Gates to stay healthy. The defense will need the plethora of recent high draft picks (Melvin Ingram, Kendall Reyes, Corey Luiget, Marcus Gilchrist et al) to step up for the Chargers to make a strong playoff run.

21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The Bucs should be better in 2012 if only because their coaching situation looks to be more stable (if not dramatically improved). It’s no secret that Raheem Morris was in over his head last year and that contributed to the team’s under-performance. They have a ton of young talent – on paper – and signing Vincent Jackson will help their offense quite a bit. Certainly, their skill positions look promising and the OL is solid enough to win. The real questions in Tampa Bay are: can Josh Freeman ever take the next step in his development and can Greg Schiano get his young talent to fulfill their promise?

22. Carolina Panthers – The Panthers offense again be a strong unit, though it’s likely the league will be better prepared for Cam Newton and the Carolina rushing attack. The OL has some question marks and the depth at WR can’t sustain a loss of Steve Smith (nor a decline in his production). That said, they should score a lot of points and be near the top of the league in yards. However, the defense – bad last year – hasn’t been improved enough to make the Panthers legitimate contenders. Adding Luke Kuechly is a nice start to rebuilding the team’s front 7 but there are still too many holes on D. The interior DL and CB spots are thin at best and the team will have to win a lot of shootouts to avoid a losing record.

23. Oakland Raiders – Carson Palmer is the epitome of a league-average QB. The Raiders are the epitome of a league average team talent-wise. Why are they so low in my power rankings? Simply put, I don’t see a lot of places for the Raiders to get unexpected production and chances are good that either Palmer implodes or Darren McFadden gets derailed by his seemingly yearly injury. They’re an 8-8 team (maybe 9-7 given their division) if everything goes right, but the guys they are relying upon have such troubling track records that it’s more likely than not that they underachieve relative to their talent level.

24. Indianapolis Colts
– The Colts could be downright awful in 2012. However, their first pre-season game showed enough to think that there is also a chance that Indianapolis could be respectable this year. Forget the Andrew Luck hype and the over-the-top gushing over his first preseason game against an inept St. Louis team. What piqued my interest was the way Chuck Pagano had his defense playing. While the Rams’ OL is putrid, the key players on the Colts’ D look to have adapted to the new 3-4 look and even Jerry Hughes showed some potential as a pure rush linebacker. The young talent on offense is there and a good QB – which Luck seems poised to be right from the start – can make up for a lot of shortcomings. Luck’s biggest challenge will be surviving with a very questionable OL in front of him.

25. Arizona Cardinals – The NFL is a passing league and it’s tough to think of a team with a worse QB situation. Neither John Skelton nor Kevin Kolb seem like good enough passers to keep the Cardinals offense moving and the team’s running game simply isn’t able to compensate for their lack of a quality signal caller. Their defense, both young and promising, should help them stay in games and could keep them from a truly terrible season. Outside of a soft 4 game stretch from weeks 4-7, the Cardinals have a tough schedule. It would be surprising if they won more than 7 games and they have the potential to end up drafting top 5 in 2013.

26. New York Jets
– The Jets seem like a team destined for collapse. Their defense has little depth outside of their DE spot and the offense is a mess. They fancy themselves a “ground and pound” offense but Shonn Greene is both mediocre and too soft for the style of offense Rex Ryan likes to employ. The QB situation has been much discussed, but neither Mark Sanchez nor Tim Tebow are good enough to win in the NFL without the defense carrying the team. If the Jets D stays healthy and Stephen Hill can hit the ground running, the Jets can probably hover around .500. But they are one or two injuries away from a 4-12 type of season.

27. Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill looked good in his first pre-season action, but it’s hard to find a team with less talent on offense than Miami. Their WR’s, TE’s and RB’s are all in the bottom third of the league and probably in the bottom 5 at each position. Conversely, their defense is pretty solid and their schedule is somewhat favorable. 8-8 is probably their absolute upside if their defense can steal some games for them.

28. Cleveland Browns
– I’m a bit more bullish on Brandon Weeden than many (though his first pre-season game didn’t really do much to inspire) but I’m not at all sold on the rest of the Browns talent on offense. Trent Richardson should help but the rest of the talent on offense is below average. Greg Little was a drop machine last year and supplemental draft pick Josh Gordon is unlikely to make a big impact early on. The defense has lost Chris Gocong from an already-thin LB grouping and Joe Haden is facing a 4 game suspension. It looks like another tough year in Cleveland.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars
– Blaine Gabbert has a lot to prove this year after a horrific 2011 season. He has some decent pieces to work with on offense but a shaky OL which wasn’t improved enough in the offseason. The Jaguars D put up decent numbers last year but it is tough to see them repeating a top 10 year on that side of the ball given their tougher schedule and lack of top-end talent. 38th overall pick Andre Branch looks promising and the Jaguars have enough pieces to surprise some people if Gabbert can find his footing as a starting QB in the NFL. Mike Mularkey was a questionable choice as a coach and might not get too many years to turn around the franchise.

30. Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin III will give the Redskins something to watch every week, but the rest of the team needs more talent before the Redskins are ready to compete in the NFC East. They have enough decent players on both sides of the ball to think that they could exceed expectations with some luck. However, a rookie QB with a limited supporting cast can only do so much – especially against one of the league’s toughest schedules. The Redskins probably won’t play as poorly as their final record might suggest.

31. Minnesota Vikings
– Barring a phenomenal year from Christian Ponder, it is hard to see how the Vikings can win more than 6 games. While Jared Allen and Adrian Peterson are amongst the game’s best players, the supporting cast is decidedly sub-par. They are riddled with holes on both sides of the ball and unlike many other bad teams from 2011, Minnesota didn’t do much to improve their roster. Matt Kalil should help solidify their line but it’s unlikely that the rest of their draft picks will be enough to get Minnesota out of the division’s cellar.

32. St. Louis Rams – Jeff Fisher will get his guys to play hard and compete, but there is still a significant lack of talent on the roster. The OLB and S spots are in bad shape and the team’s OL is amongst the worst in the league. There are a number of promising young players, but the Rams will lose a lot of games in 2012. They look like a team which will start to build some momentum late in the year as young players start to develop and find their footing in Fisher’s scheme.

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2012 NFL Draft Recap: AFC West

May 13, 2012 Leave a comment

The AFC West looks to be one of the more intriguing divisions to follow in 2012. The reigning champs, Denver, made the biggest move of the offseason adding Peyton Madding and unloading Tim Tebow. Right on their heels are the perpetually underperforming Chargers and Raiders as well as 2010’s division champ Kansas City who might have repeated their title had they not suffered a litany of serious injuries to key players. In such a tight race, getting a big impact from your rookie class can go a long way.

Denver Broncos – Obviously getting Manning was the centerpiece of Denver’s offseason but they managed to add some nice pieces in the draft as well. After trading down, they grabbed DT Derek Wolfe far earlier than I thought he would go but he adds an interior rusher to a team badly missing that element on defense. Grabbing QB Brock Osweiler late in the 2nd seemed to be a nice gamble. He’s very raw but his upside is significant and you could do worse than learning behind Peyton Manning for 2 years. Ronnie Hillman is a nice sparkplug who could give the Broncos big-play ability from their RB position – something they haven’t had in awhile. Their pair of fourth rounders, C Philip Blake and DB Omar Bolden project to stop gap starters or quality backups and add depth at two positions of need. DT Malik Jackson might have been better off going to a 3-4 scheme, but like Wolfe could help the interior pass rush. Eric Page, Gerell Robinson and Duke Ihenacho could make the roster as undrafted players. The Broncos biggest need was adding talent to their interior line, I’m not sure they found an impact starter though both Wolfe and Jackson could fit the bill if they get better in the run game.

Kansas City Chiefs
– It’s another high risk, high upside draft for Scott Pioli and company. The Chiefs ignored what could be their biggest need – QB – and came away with a collection of pieces which are tough to figure out. Obviously, Dontari Poe is an impressive physical specimen. It’s surprising that Pioli and Romeo Crennel would select a guy with questionable instincts though both – having learned under Belichick and Parcells – are disciples of the so called “Planet Theory” which could explain their attraction to Poe. Needing help at RT, the Chiefs added two potential replacements for incumbent Barry Richardson in 2nd rounder Jeff Allen and 3rd rounder Donald Stephenson. Devon Wylie in the 4th was a headscrathcer, though there were a lot of those league wide. Wylie certainly has potential as a slot receiver, but his route-running and hands aren’t particularly great and he looks to be more of an athlete than a football player. DeQuan Menzie was a nice find in the 5th round, as a possible slot CB/S tweener, though he will be badly exposed as a starter at either spot. Late rounders Junior Hemingway and Cyrus Gray could contribute but are more likely headed to the practice squad. None of the Chiefs’ undrafted additions seem like obvious candidates to make a strong run at the final 53 man roster.

San Diego Chargers
– One has to wonder whether or not it matters how well the Chargers draft, if they remain committed to Norv Turner at head coach. For years, the team has underperformed in the regular season and come up small in big moments in the post season. That said, the Chargers managed to add a number of nice prospects to bolster the chances of the team winning in spite of their coach. 1st round pass rusher Melvin Ingram is a tough projection for a 3-4 scheme, even a 1-gapping aggressive scheme like the Chargers’. His lack of arm length could make it tough to succeed if he is asked to do much more than attack the QB at all times but he certainly has impressive potential as a pass-rusher. Getting Kendall Reyes in the 2nd round was a coup for GM A.J. Smith, he might have been the best overall 5-technique prospect in the draft with an excellent combination of strength and agility. Brandon Taylor should fill the departed Steve Gregory’s role, potentially starting at safety for the team though probably headed for a #3 spot on the depth chart. Ladarius Green fits the Chargers scheme well and could be a top TE in the league a few years down the road if he puts on weight and works on his blocking. Johnnie Troutman and David Molk were nice values as interior linemen late in the draft. Undrafted Logan Harrell and Christian Tupou could compete for spots along the Chargers’ DL.

Oakland Raiders – Having traded away their picks in the top 2 rounds and used their 3rd rounder in the Supplemental draft, the Raiders were left without much ammo for the draft. What picks they did have were made on questionable players, with the exception of 5th rounders DE Jack Crawford and WR Juron Criner. There is perhaps no greater reminder that Al Davis is gone than the selection of Criner – a WR whose speed is amongst the worst of the 2012 WR prospects, though he has good upside as a potential #2 possession type WR. Their first selection, Tony Bergstrom is going to have to kick inside to guard at the NFL level, as he lacks the arm length or footwork to make it as an OT. As a guard, I’m not sure he has enough upside to warrant a 3rd round pick. Miles Burris in the 4th has some good athleticism and explosiveness, but he looks lost in coverage and I’m not sure that he can translate his collegiate pass rushing success to the pros. Neither 6th rounder Christo Bilukidi nor 7th rounder Nathan Stupar were guys I thought were much more than fringe prospects though Stupar could be a quality special teams coverage guy. With limited picks, it would have been tough for the Raiders to have found impact players this year but even then I’m not sure they did as well as they could have. They did grab a trio of undrafted free agents who I had rated as 4th-5th round talents: WR Thomas Mayo, OG Lucas Nix and S Aaron Henry.

Overall, the AFC West looks much the same as it did before the draft. The Chiefs still might not be able to be a top team with Matt Cassel at the helm. The Chargers still might not be able to overcome their coach’s shortcomings. The Broncos’ fortunes are entirely tied to the health of Peyton Manning. The Raiders seem destined for another long year unless Carson Palmer can find the fountain of youth.

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.

Mock Draft 5.0

April 22, 2012 Leave a comment

(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)

Just four days to go until the 2012 NFL draft. Here is another look at how things could shake out next week:


1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

With the Colts already announcing they intend to choose Luck, there is no suspense in the first pick of this year’s draft.

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

With Luck headed to Indianapolis, Griffin will be headed to the nation’s capital. He could be the first true “franchise QB” the Redskins have had in a long, long time. He better be, given the package of picks Washington traded for him.

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

There has been growing belief that Kalil could slip past Minnesota here, but it would still be a surprise to me if the Vikings pass up the best LT in this draft. They could go with Justin Blackmon, but protecting Christian Ponder has to be a top priority and current LT Charlie Johnson just isn’t up to the task

4. Cleveland Browns – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M

Colt McCoy probably isn’t going to be the guy to take the Browns where they want to go so the question becomes: do they give McCoy one more year with a premier offensive talent like Justin Blackmon or Trent Richardson, or do they grab a potential franchise QB now? I don’t think the Browns can pass on Tannehill here and still have another first rounder to add a RB or WR.

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

Talented but troubled Aqib Talib is probably on the way out and Ronde Barber is ancient. Claiborne is an ideal pick for the young Tampa Bay defense. It would be very surprising if Claiborne was available here and the Bucs passed on him. Trent Richardson is the only other guy who could make some sense but grabbing a CB has to be a higher priority than a RB.

6. St. Louis Rams – Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State

It’s assumed that the Rams will grab Justin Blackmon if he’s available at #6 but new coach Jeff Fisher loves to build his defense, especially with DT’s who can disrupt the pass. Cox didn’t have an off-the-charts Combine, but he is an ideal 4-3 3-technique who can get after the QB and hold his own in the run game. He will give St. Louis the talent on the interior DL that they’ve lacked for a number of years.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars – Melvin Ingram, OLB, South Carolina

Another spot where Justin Blackmon could go but the Jaguars choose to address their pass rush after adding some veteran depth at WR in the offseason. Currently the Jags only pass rusher is hard-working Jeremy Mincey – who is productive but isn’t a guy offenses have to gameplan for. Ingram had dynamic pass-rushing ability and gives the Jaguars some much needed athleticism at DE

8. Miami Dolphins – Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

There aren’t many teams who have had worse offseasons than the Dolphins. Their big weakness heading into the 2012 season was their passing game. They traded their #1 WR (Brandon Marshall) and have gone yet another offseason without adding a franchise QB. Unless they trade up for Tannehill, they will be relying on veteran mediocrities at QB for the next year or two. Blackmon will allow them to get the most out of Matt Moore or David Garrard and gives the Dolphins a much needed boost to their thin WR corps.

9. Carolina Panthers – Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

The Panthers could go in a number of directions at #9 but Michael Floyd is the best player on the board at this point and might be a better prospect than Justin Blackmon. Combined with Steve Smith, Cam Newton will have an exciting duo of WR’s with which to shred opposing secondaries.

10. Buffalo Bills – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

The Bills would probably like to have snagged Floyd or Blackmon, but with both off the board they have to address their weakness at OT – a spot which was a problem before losing Demetress Bell to Philadelphia a few weeks ago. Reiff gives the Bills a long-term solution at LT and should help keep Ryan Fitzpatrick upright. A CB like Stephon Gilmore could be a possibility here as well.

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

It would be surprising if Richardson falls this far. Chances are that if he gets past Tampa Bay at #5, someone will trade up for him. However, if he is on the board at #11, the Chiefs won’t pass up on him. Jamaal Charles is coming off of a serious injury and Thomas Jones is at the end of the line. If the Chiefs can’t run the ball, they aren’t going to win many games because Matt Cassel isn’t going to be able to carry the team. Richardson gives the Chiefs an exciting weapon and keeps Kansas City’s running game at the top of the NFL.

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

David Hawthorne is in New Orleans and the Seahwaks don’t have great internal options with which to replace him. It’s possible Seattle slides K.J. Wright inside, but they’d still have a big hole in their LB corps. Kuechly has some versatility and should be a very productive player for coach Carroll. DL help is also on Seattle’s wishlist, so a guy like Devon Still or Nick Perry is an option as well.

13. Arizona Cardinals – David DeCastro, OG, Stanford

The Cardinals OL is perpetually a problem and DeCastro is easily the best OL on the board at this point. It would be a surprise if Arizona passed on the Stanford guard – who projects as the best interior OL to be drafted in a decade. The Cardinals do have a lot of other needs, including at WR (Kendall Wright could be an option) and at LB.

14. Dallas Cowboys – Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse

One of the first big surprises of the draft, the Cowboys go with an OLB to play opposite DeMarcus Ware. Incumbent Anthony Spencer was franchise tagged and none too happy about it. Even if he plays under his franchise tender, he probably isn’t a long-term solution for Dallas. Chandler Jones has a ton of upside, despite inconsistent production at college. The Cowboys need playmakers on D and Jones has the ability to wreak havoc on opposing QB’s while having the potential to drop into coverage at the LB spot. Mark Barron or a DE could be an option as well.

15. Philadelphia Eagles – Devon Still, DT, Penn State

Andy Reid loves to build his lines and he needs to add some talent and youth to his interior DL. While Fletcher Cox has been the trendy pick for the Eagles, he projects to be long gone by the time Philadelphia comes on the clock. Devon Still has a lot of upside and is the well-rounded type of player that Philadelphia needs. While he’s not an elite pass-rusher, nor an imposing run-stuffer, Still has a lot of ability and can contribute as a 3-down player.

16. New York Jets – Mark Barron, SS, Alabama

The Jets need help in a number of spots. Their edge-rusher spot is lacking, they could use another RB, a dynamic talent at WR and help on the right side of their OL. However, their safety spot is a black hole and Mark Barron is too good of a value for them to pass up. The Jets cannot expect to wrest the AFC East title from the Patriots without adding some talent and depth at safety. The aggressive Jets front office might even be willing to go so far as to trade up for Barron if they feel they can’t get him at #16.

17. Cincinnati Bengals – Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor

Andre Caldwell is in Denver and Jerome Simpson is unsigned and has serious off-field problems. Andy Dalton could really benefit from a playmaker opposite A.J. Green. He disappointed at the Combine, but make no mistake – Wright has serious big-play ability.

18. San Diego Chargers – Nick Perry, DE, Southern California

The Chargers badly need a pass-rusher, as Shawne Merriman’s glory years are a distant memory at this point and they’ve struggled to address the position recently. Nick Perry is a bit of a wildcard in this draft, with the upside to go in the top 10 but he could also slide to the late 1st. He has an explosive first step and the athleticism to beat quality offensive tackles. He could use some refinement in his technique, and will have to develop additional pass-rush moves, but his talent level is amongst the best in this class if you need a guy to attack the QB.

19. Chicago Bears – Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis

New GM Phil Emery has given QB Jay Cutler some new toys on offense and has filled a lot of the team’s needs on that side of the ball, though questions remain on the OL. The Bears defense needs an influx of youth, especially along the DL. Dontari Poe has the massive size that will remind long-time Bears fans of former All Pro Ted Washington, though Poe has more athleticism. Some questions remain about Poe’s lack of production in college (against mediocre competition) and his overall football IQ and instincts, but his combination of size and athleticism is too good to slip too much farther in the draft.

20. Tennessee Titans – Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina

Center and DE have to be atop the Titans wishlist and coach Munchak has implied that he doesn’t want to go interior OL early. Whitney Mercilus has been the popular pick here but Quinton Coples could be an option as well – providing less flash but a more well-rounded and versatile skill set. If Coples can live up to his sky-high potential, he could be a huge steal at #20 – though it wouldn’t be a surprise if he slips past this spot in the draft.

21. Cincinnati Bengals – Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

Even with Terrance Newman added, the Bengals D needs help in the secondary and Gilmore is a natural fit for their defensive scheme. While he needs a lot of work to smooth out his technique problems (especially his footwork), he has the most exciting upside of any DB in this draft outside of Morris Claiborne. If Leon Hall can’t regain his pre-injury form, Gilmore could be a long-term #1 CB in Cincinnati. Otherwise, he will help give the Bengals a top CB pairing.

22. Cleveland Browns – Courtney Upshaw, DE, Alabama

The Browns need a playmaker at WR or RB. However, Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw might be too good of a value to pass up here. While his pass-rushing ability is probably a bit overrated, he still offers a ton of upside as a well-rounded 4-3 DE. The Browns added Frostee Rucker to play opposite Jabaal Sheard, but Rucker isn’t a long term option and is more of a rotational player anyway. Adding Upshaw to an already talented DL could make the Browns front line the best young unit in the league.

23. Detroit Lions – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

The Lions have a solid young defense but really need a quality player in their defensive backfield. Dre Kirkpatrick could be the 2nd best CB in this class and will help solidify a secondary which has lacked top-end players for a long time.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia

The Steelers OL has been a major problem for awhile and they cannot pass up the talented, massive and athletic Georgia OL. Cordy Glenn gives Pittsburgh some versatility, with the ability to play either RT or RG in the pros. Pittsburgh could also choose to infuse some youth into their defense, with an ILB like Dont’a Hightower or a DB – possibly even an OLB as the Steelers love to collect pass-rushers

25. Denver Broncos – Michael Brockers, DT, LSU

There are few prospects as polarizing as Brockers in this year’s first round. You either love him or hate him. The redshirt sophomore has a lot of potential but his production is lacking and he didn’t impress in the offseason workouts. That said, the Broncos interior DL is desperately in need of talent and Brockers could be the guy they need to improve the unit. Other options could include Jerel Worthy or Kendall Reyes.

26. Houston Texans – Dont’a Hightower, ILB, Alabama

The Texans traded starting ILB Demeco Ryans and didn’t replace him externally. Wade Phillips’ already stout and impressive defense could use a guy like Hightower who plays with the hard-hitting and aggressive demeanor than Phillips loves. A #2 WR is also a distinct possibility, with Stephen Hill or Rueben Randle being possible options

27. New England Patriots – Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State

It’s tough to see Bill Belichick passing up on McClellin – not only because the Patriots’ OLB are easily the worst of any serious playoff contender, but because McClellin is the versatile type of defender that Belichick loves. The Boise State LB can line up inside, outside, in either a 4-3 or 3-4, he can drop into coverage or rush the QB. The only concern here is McClellin’s 3 concussions. It’s possible some teams could have him off their board due to concerns about his health.

28. Green Bay Packers – Whitney Mercilus, OLB, Illinois

The Packers have needed a player to rush the QB opposite Clay Matthews for awhile now. Mercilus may or may not be able to move to OLB from his collegiate spot at DE. However, in a scheme like Dom Capers’ attacking 3-4, he will be able to pin his ears back and use his athleticism to get after the QB frequently. The Packers could also go with a 5-technique DE here – Kendall Reyes or Jerel Worthy.

29. Baltimore Ravens – Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech

Even with Torrey Smith en tow, the Ravens could use another young receiver to give them some big play ability on offense. Baltimore has few pressing needs and can afford to roll the dice a little on a project like Hill – whose upside could be higher than any onther WR in the draft. An interior OL like Peter Konz could make a lot of sense as well.

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

Coby Fleener might be getting a bit overrated, due to the success of other mobile TE’s. However, he projects as a reliable intermediate threat who can contribute in the red-zone. The 49ers could use some help in that area, as Vernon Davis can’t do it all himself and their WR’s aren’t great short-area options. Plus, Fleener played under coach Harbaugh and should be able to learn San Francisco’s offense quickly

31. New England Patriots – Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut

The Patriots have filled a lot of needs this offseason, but haven’t found a quality interior lineman (4-3 DT or 3-4 DE) to line up next to Vince Wilfork. Reyes is flying under the radar a bit, but he has the athleticism to push the pocket as well as the strength and length to hold up in coach Belichick’s 2-gap scheme

32. New York Giants – Doug Martin, RB, Boise State

Brandon Jacobs is gone and Ahmad Bradshaw isn’t the most reliable of backs. Boise State’s Doug Martin is a very well rounded back who gives the Giants the versatility they covet in the backfield. Martin projects as a 3 down back who can both pick up tough yards and contribute in the passing game.

 

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.

 

Goodbye 2011 Season. Combine Here We Come.

February 7, 2012 Leave a comment

(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)

The 2011 NFL season is just about in the books. There are a few loose ends to be tied up – the Giants parade, a few coaching/assistant vacancies, retirements, etc, – but for all intents and purposes we are ready to kick off the 2012 offseason. For many of us (especially those of us reading an NFL-draft themed website) the offseason is nearly (equally?) as exciting as the regular season. The first stop is the NFL Scouting Combine in just over two weeks. While some of us will be watching each and every drill and keeping our eyes and ears open for draft-related rumblings, others will just pay attention to the big daily headlines. Here are some things to watch:

1. The top of the DL class. Unlike in some recent years, there is no consensus Top 5 pick DL on the board. There are two guys – LSU’s Michael Brockers and North Carolina’s Quinton Coples – who have very high upside but question marks. Brockers, a redshirt sophomore, is thought to have elite upside but is very raw. Coples is a bit of an enigma, flashing top-end skills at times and disappearing at other times. In a draft class short on 5-techniques, and a league shifting more and more to 3-4 base schemes, both Coples and Brockers could draw a lot of interest early. It’s possible 4-3 teams take an interest in both guys, Brockers is probably atop the list of 3-techniques in the draft and Coples could play DE in some 4-3 schemes. After those guys, Devon Still, Dontari Poe, and others are looking to jump into the top half of the 1st round.

2. The WR class in general. If there’s a position which has a lot of moving and shaking in terms of draft stock at the combine, it’s the receivers. Can Alshon Jeffery run well and prove some of his naysayers wrong about his athleticism and speed? Can Michael Floyd interview well and show better-than-expected fluidity in drills? Is Kendall Wright really as impressive athletically as a lot of people are starting to think? Moving beyond the top tier of receivers, the Combine could help shape the 2nd tier of WR’s. This draft is loaded with speedy, dynamic playmakers: Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, T.Y. Hilton to name a few. Not to mention some bigger guys who could boost their stock with good 40 times: Juron Criner, Rueben Randle, Mohamed Sanu. This is a class which will be very deep in WR prospects and a superlative Combine showing can theoretically make a WR a lot of money. Conversely, with so many good prospects, a bad combine could cause a WR to slip a lot.

3. The “other” QB’s: Kirk Cousins, Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles, Brandon Weeden. Like with the WR’s, there is a bit of a muddle after the first tier of WR’s. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are obviously the #1 and #2 guys. After that, there isn’t much of a consensus on anyone. Seeing how some of these guys do in drills and how they interview will probably cause one or two to shoot up the board and possibly one or two to slide into Day 3 territory.

4. Smaller school guys. Guys like Appalachian State WR Brian Quick, Midwestern State OT Amini Silatolu, Louisiana-Lafayette TE Ladarius Green, Cal Poly DB Asa Jackson and Montana DB Trumaine Johnson are among the lesser known prospects (to many) who the casual draft follower or college football fan might not know about. There are usually one or two such players who see a boost in their stock by performing well in the drills or interview process.

5. Character or injury guys. How does Ryan Broyles’ knee check out? Is Alshon Jeffery’s work ethic bad or just a myth? This portion of the process goes largely unseen until the draft itself when you hear cryptic comments from a so-called expert about how “from what I understand, Player X didn’t do well in the interviews” or “Player Y apparently has some drug issues in his past” or “Player Z’s injury is more worrisome than many thought”. However, as we have seen in the case of Aaron Hernandez (drugs) or Rob Gronkowski (spinal injury), sometimes these red flags can be too highly considered on draft day. We all remember the hoopla about Cam Newton’s comments (“I’m an entertainer and an icon”). Many labeled him a diva or character risk based on those comments and his issues at Auburn. Luckily, Carolina was smart enough to trust their own interview process and make him their franchise QB.

6. Position conversion projects. With the increase of 3-4 teams in the NFL, but no real increase in college, there are more and more teams looking to convert college DT’s to 5-techniques and college DE’s to OLBs. In many cases, teams project these conversions with very little tape to go on. The drills at the combine (and pro days) can go a long way. Guys like Whitney Mercilus, Melvin Ingram, Vinny Curry, Cam Johnson, Andre Branch and the like will need to show well in LB drills to be considered by 3-4 clubs. Some DB drills could also help scouts identify CB’s who could flip to safety (especially important in this weak safety class).

All in all, it should be an interesting kickoff to a 6 month offseason.

Pass Rushing Class Of 2012 Has Tough Act To Follow

January 3, 2012 Leave a comment

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

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

Sackrookies_medium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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