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.
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.
(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.
1. Tony Pauline recently noted that Shea McClellin could sneak into the end of round 1 to the Patriots or Packers (among others). It wouldn’t surprise me – after all, he fits what those teams need and look for in an OLB. He strikes me as the type of player whose upside is “consistently good, reliable starter” and not “game changing playmaker”. Those are the types of guys who seem great in a retrospective look at the draft years later but in the moment, it’s a tough sell if you think his upside is limited.
2. Mike Mayock has recently made news in draft circles for declaring Stephon Gilmore as the 2nd best CB in the draft and a potential top 10 pick. Mayock’s prediction about Gilmore’s NFL ability will probably only come true if Dre Kirkpatrick moves to safety and Janoris Jenkins can’t stay clean off the field. Gilmore needs a lot of coaching and technique refinement before he’s ready to be a quality NFL player.
3. Looking at the back portion of the draft, the three teams I feel have the most to gain from hitting a homerun (so to speak) in this draft are the Packers, Patriots and Texans. That’s not to say that other teams can’t improve themselves or turn themselves into legitimate Super Bowl contenders by adding a quality player or two – but those three teams each have a big hole or two and a game changing type talent could be the final piece of the puzzle. The Pats and Packers need an impact front 7 type and the Texans need a #2 WR to take some pressure off Andre Johnson.
4. I know Ryan Kalil is the fashionable pick for the Vikings at #3 (and I mock him there myself) but I’m starting to think the Vikings will have the first surprise of Day 1 by either selecting Justin Blackmon or trading the pick to a team who covets Ryan Tannehill.
5. Stephen Hill has to be in the top 3 most “boom or bust” players of this draft. He is either going to be a matchup nightmare and enjoy a Pro Bowl caliber career, or he will be out of the league by 2015. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground.
6. Most mock drafts have stuck with projecting only one 1st round RB (Trent Richardson). If there is a 2nd to go, my money’s on Doug Martin via a late trade up to pick #27-32 from a team drafting early in round 2.
7. The closer to the draft we get, the more muddled the 2nd tier of WR’s is becoming. None of the early favorites for #3 WR off the board have established themselves (Alshon Jeffery, Rueben Randle, Mohamed Sanu, Dwight Jones, Kendall Wright).
8. Speaking of Alshon Jeffery, as good as he looked in his workout yesterday, what are the chances he stays that motivated in the pros?
9. Amini Silatolu – like Martin and McClellin, he’s another guy I could see sneaking into the end of round 1.
10. The Dolphins need to get a QB in this draft. Matt Moore is probably good enough to get them into 7-9 win territory. Good luck getting a franchise QB next year with that type of record – it’s possible, but not an enviable position. If they think there’s even a 50% chance Tannehill is a franchise type prospect, they should pull the trigger.
11. Dont’a Hightower has seemingly fallen off the map when it comes to 1st round consideration but my money’s on him going to one of the 2011 playoff teams at the end of round 1. If he makes it to round 2, he won’t last long.
12. Dontari Poe has some of the worst awareness I’ve seen for a top 10 consideration. His size and athleticism are tempting but he looks completely lost a lot of the time – against inferior competition no less.