This is the 3rd of 8 divisional recaps.
Cincinnati Bengals – Despite having the smallest scouting department in the NFL, the Bengals have done a pretty good job drafting the last few years. 2012 was an important draft for them if they want to build on a successful 2011 campaign and remain as a contender in a tough division. On paper, the Bengals made out extremely well though their draft strategy seemed to be to just draft the #1 player remaining on Mel Kiper’s big board at each selection. Almost every pick represented great value on paper, though trading down in the 1st and passing on David DeCastro (only to see him go to a divisional rival) was questionable. Dre Kirkpatrick fits perfectly with the Bengals scheme and addresses a position of questionable depth. Kevin Zeitler isn’t an exciting prospect but projects as a quality NFL guard. Mohammed Sanu and Brandon Thompson were both guys I felt were overrated as 1st or early 2nd rounders, but in the 3rd round they were nice pickups. Devon Still, Orson Charles and Marvin Jones were also guys who I thought could have gone a round higher than the Bengals picked them. George Iloka probably won’t amount to much but his size and special teams value are enough to give a long look in camp. It will be very interesting to watch this draft class and see how it plays out. One has to think that some of these “big name” prospects who were pre-draft darlings slid for a reason. Even in undrafted free agency, the Bengals stayed true to their strategy of adding well-known prospects, adding mercurial and controversial Vontaze Burfict. Kashif Moore and Julian Miller were both guys I liked as sleepers and could find their way onto the roster.
Cleveland Browns – The Browns got off to what I feel was a bad start, trading up to pick #3 to guarantee Trent Richardson seemed unnecessary. It’s true that the Vikings could have moved the 3rd pick to a team who would have taken the talented RB, but I’m of the belief that no RB is worth taking that early in the draft – especially for a bad team like Cleveland who figures to be a few years away from being serious contenders. Brandon Weeden later in the 1st has drawn a ton of criticism due to his age, but the Browns desperately need to upgrade from Colt McCoy sooner rather than later. If Weeden is a total failure, the Browns will be in a good position to land a top QB prospect next year. The rest of the Browns draft until the 6th round looks suspect. Mitchell Schwartz is a solid prospect but the Browns passed on a lot of good players at bigger positions of need. John Hughes was a downright bizarre selection, showing almost nothing in college to warrant drafting in the top 200 picks. Travis Benjamin doesn’t have the hands or ability to beat press coverage to ever be more than a #3 or #4 WR and isn’t the high-quality weapon the Browns receiving corps has been missing for many years. James-Michael Johnson and Emmanuel Acho were nice value picks and could add depth to the Browns mediocre LB corps. 6th rounder Billy Winn was a guy I liked as early as the upper 2nd round and his slide down the board was one of the more curious storylines during the draft. He could be a real steal, depending on what led to his fall down the board. Brad Smelley is a nice developmental H-Back/FB who is a natural fit for the Browns scheme.
Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers, like the Patriots and a few other perennial contenders, managed to improve themselves without having to try very hard. A team in desperate need of OL help got the best guard prospect in a decade – David DeCastro – to fall into their laps in the 1st round and then managed to snag the overrated but intriguing Mike Adams in the 2nd. Chris Rainey later on could be a nice complement to Rashard Mendenhall and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take Mewelde Moore’s spot on the roster. I’m not high on Alameda Ta’amu, but in the 4th round he offers a lot of value even if he is never anything more than a reliable backup. Sean Spence was an odd pick, given the Steelers scheme but he could fit as a pass-down LB and special teams ace. Grabbing Marquis Maze and Brandon Lindsey as undrafted players was a coup for Pittsburgh, though both face uphill battles to make the fairly stacked Steelers roster.
Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens, reportedly as a result of losing out to the Patriots on Dont’a Hightower, managed to trade down into the 2nd round and get a guy they had been linked to for awhile – Courtney Upshaw. Like 2010 2nd rounder Sergio Kindle, the Ravens are hoping Upshaw can add some youth to an aging edge-rusher position. With Terrell Suggs possibly out for the year – and Achilles tendon injuries tend to be career-altering – Upshaw will be pressed into duty early and often in Baltimore. Whether or not Upshaw can provide much in the way of a pass rush at the NFL level remains to be seen, but I’m doubtful he can be more than a 4 sack per year kind of guy. Kelechi Osemele could pay dividends as a late 2nd rounder, he certainly had the talent to go higher despite questions about his work ethic. 3rd rounder Bernard Pierce and 5th rounder Asa Jackson were guys I thought were undervalued going into the draft and could be nice steals for Baltimore. Tommy Streeter fell to the 6th round for a reason, and likely won’t make it in the NFL. Gino Gradkowski in the 4th was a headscratcher, one has to wonder what Ozzie Newsome and company see in him. QB John Brantley and DT Ishmaa’ily Kitchen are among the more interesting undrafted players that the Ravens signed – both could make it in the NFL but will need time on a practice squad most likely.
The general wisdom is that the Combine is used to confirm what you have seen on tape throughout the course of a player’s collegiate career. Too often, fans and even some experts overstate the importance of the week long scouting event in Indianapolis. A guy who runs a bad 40 has “seen his stock plummet!” and a guy who tears up the bench press is “a budding monster!”. Indeed, the physical drills at the Combine are less important than what happens behind closed doors in the physicals and interviews – things that the average fan, blogger and even most in the media are not privy to. It won’t be until the draft is over, or near over, that you’ll hear reports about “apparently player X failed a lot of his medical exams at the combine” or “player Y had character issues that came up.”
Still, there is definitely money to be made and lost and a few guys every year see their draft stock increase or decrease enough to make the Combine a compelling event for all fans of the draft. Here are some guys who helped and hurt themselves the most:
Harrison Smith – A lot of people seemingly didn’t know who Harrison Smith was 2 weeks ago. Even despite the poor crop of safeties in this draft, Smith was flying under the radar in draft circles. An impressive combine seems to have changed that to the point where one well known draft expert claimed Smith could work his way into late round 1. His instincts and size are near ideal with only some questions remaining about his athleticism. He didn’t blow anyone with his 40 yard time (looking nervous and stumbling a little) but he did enough to alleviate concerns about his fluidity and agility to the point where a top 40 pick seems likely. A team like the Patriots, desperate for a safety and with two late 1st rounders, seem like a natural fit for the Notre Dame safety.
Mychal Kendricks – Coming into 2011, Kendricks looked like a mid-round pick who had “Future Special Teams Ace” written all over him. However, he had a very solid year at Cal, showing that he has the tools and instincts to match his athleticism. He turned in one of the most impressive overall showings – being amongst the best in every drill except the bench press. Kendricks’ stock had been rising towards the end up the year and the Combine should help solidify him as a Top 50 pick who could sneak into the early 2nd.
Nick Perry – Most people knew about Perry coming into the Combine. A standout at USC, there isn’t much question about Perry’s talent at getting to the QB. What did surprise some people was how explosive he looked in drills and how well he moves his 6’3 271 frame. His size and lower body strength have answered some questions about his scheme versatility. He looks like an ideal 3-4 “elephant” who could also play RE in a 40 front. Seattle would love to have Perry to play Pete Carroll’s “Leo” position but Perry has probably solidified himself as a Top 10 pick now – surpassing former OLB/DE front runner Courtney Upshaw.
Mohamed Sanu – Sanu has been a consensus late 1st rounder for a long time and watching him on tape you can see why – he’s big, plays pretty physically and has reliable hands. The big knock on Sanu is his lack of speed and explosion off the snap. Despite what some draft scouts say, I don’t see a guy who is a great route runner. He looks to have some stiffness in his hips coming out of breaks – and could struggle to separate from NFL CB’s. It’s one thing to dominate Big East zone coverages, and another to be able to beat press coverage at the next level. Sanu’s 4.67 40 yard time confirmed a lot of fears about his slowness and sluggishness. While he did a little better in the other agility drills, he doesn’t have the quick feet that will be needed to overcome his other shortcomings. He has potential as a #2 possession receiver, but he needs to go to a team with an established vertical threat. Even then, he might not be athletic enough to cut it in the pros.
Vinny Curry – Like Sanu, there were some questions about Curry’s fluidity and athleticism. He looks great at times on tape – a potential stat 3-4 OLB or 4-3 RE. Other times, he looks stiff and totally out of place on a football field. Curry’s combine did do much to allay concerns about his athletic ability. Compared to other potential early round OLB/DE options, Curry had a very poor showing. He ran a poor 40 (4.98) and didn’t really make up for it in other drills, though he did have a good showing in the 3-cone drill. There are a lot of concerns about Curry’s awareness and ability to react to plays rather than just pinning his ears back and getting after the QB. For a guy who isn’t a big factor in the run-game, a lack of explosion and speed is damning. Curry is probably a late 2nd or early 3rd rounder right now.
Vontaze Burfict – The Arizona linebacker came into the 2011 season with first round hype, some figuring he was headed for a top 10 pick in April. However, a poor year on-field and some well-publicized issues with his ability to take coaching had Burfict coming into the Combine with a lot to prove. Some still had him as a top 50 pick (perhaps going to the Ravens or Steelers at the end of round 1). Things went from bad to worse for Burfict in Indianapolis though. First, there were reports of him showing poorly in interviews, making excuses and failing to own up to his own shortcomings (i.e. lack of maturity). He followed that up with a disastrous showing in drills, running a 5.09 40 yard dash and putting up a 30 inch vertical. Absolutely nothing has gone right for Burfict since 2010 and it looks as if he has completely destroyed his stock. While he is sure to draw comparisons to Patriots LB Brandon Spikes – who had an awful Combine two years ago – Spikes had a much better final season at college and there weren’t the same concerns about coachability. Burfict will probably go earlier than some of his critics think, but it wouldn’t come as a total shock if he is still available on Day 3.
More thoughts on the Combine to come later this week.
(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)
The Senior Bowl is in the books and for all intents and purposes, the 2011 college football season is behind us. With less than a month until the scouting combine and less than three months until the draft, things are starting to come into focus a bit. Here’s a mock draft of how I see things shaking out if the draft were held today:
*Note that I am not projecting trades for the purposes of this mock draft
1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
No brainer. Next.
2. St. Louis Rams – Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
The Rams will likely lose Brandon Lloyd in free agency (he’s said he wants to follow Josh McDaniels, and the Patriots seem likely to be interested) and need to give Sam Bradford an elite weapon to utilize. St. Louis will probably try to move out of this pick, as there will be demand from QB-starved teams who covet Robert Griffin III. Sliding down a few spots should still allow the Rams to get their man Blackmon, who is the consensus #1 WR on the board.
3. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil, OT, USC
The Vikings could go in a few directions here. They could use a CB and perhaps even a WR if they love Blackmon and he is there. However, protecting 2nd year QB Christian Ponder has to be a priority. Matt Kalil has a high upside and should keep Ponder’s blindside clean for the foreseeable future
4. Cleveland Browns – Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Cleveland cannot pass on Griffin if the Baylor signal caller is sitting there at #4. Colt McCoy hasn’t established himself as a franchise guy and Griffin’s upside is too high to pass up for the mediocre McCoy. If Griffin goes #2, Blackmon could make some sense here for the Browns.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
It remains to be seen whether or not new Bucs head coach Greg Schiano will want to deal with his troubled, but talented, CB Aqib Talib. Even if he is willing to give Talib a chance, Ronde Barber is nearing the end of his great career and the Bucs need quality DB’s to compete in the NFC South against the likes of Steve Smith, Julio Jones and Marques Colston. Claiborne is the top CB available and would be a welcome addition to an already young and promising defense.
6. Washington Redskins – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The Redskins find themselves in no-man’s land here. Griffin is gone and their #2 need (WR) doesn’t give them good value. Washington seems like a good possibility to move up to grab Griffin, but if they stay put a talented OT like Riley Reiff makes a lot of sense. Jammal Brown hasn’t been able to get back to the level he was playing at before his hip injury a few years ago and could be on the way out. Reiff could bring long-term stability to the Redskins’ OL.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
If the Jaguars want to develop 2nd year QB Blaine Gabbert, they need to do a better job in keeping him upright – as he got rattled early and often in 2011. Stanford’s Jonathan Martin is an instinctive and powerful blocker who did a great job keeping Andrew Luck upright over the last 3 years. Martin’s also a talented run blocker and should be able to open running lanes for the Jaguars’ talented Maurice Jones-Drew.
8. Carolina Panthers – Michael Brockers, DL, LSU
Brockers caught a lot of people off guard by declaring for the 2011 draft as a redshirt sophomore. He definitely is a raw prospect who will need some refinement before he realizes his immense upside. That said, Brockers is an extremely talented DT who can play inside in a 4-3 front or slide over to the 5-technique in a 3-4. The young LSU DL has a great motor and uses his impressive lower body strength to power past OL in both the run and pass games. He’d provide the Panthers an elite presence in their interior line that they’ve lacked for many years.
9. Miami Dolphins – Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama
Upshaw measured in a little smaller than expected at the Senior Bowl, but he’s still the premier edge rusher in the 2012 draft. The Dolphins will most likely be shifting to a 4-3 next year and need a DE to play opposite Cameron Wake. Unless the Dolphins make a move to grab Griffin, and give themselves the franchise QB they’ve lacked since Dan Marino, Upshaw should be their guy
10. Buffalo Bills – Nick Perry, OLB, USC
The Bills will be reportedly staying with a 3-4 alignment (for now) and desperately need a pass-rushing presence to complement their talented DL (Kyle Williams, Marcel Dareus). Perry is a good looking pass rush prospect who could play standing up, or go back to DE if the Bills revert back to a 4-3 scheme.
11. Kansas City Chiefs – Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Jamaal Charles is coming off a serious knee injury, Thomas Jones is old and Jackie Battle is mediocre. The Chiefs will likely remain a run-heavy team under now full-time coach Romeo Crennel. Richardson is an elite RB prospect with an excellent combination of vision, power and athleticism. While RB doesn’t make sense for a lot of teams in the 1st round, the Chiefs would greatly benefit from having a talented back like Richardson. If Charles comes back healthy, the Kansas City running attack would be a real force to be reckoned with.
12. Seattle Seahawks – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Like the Redskins, the QB starved Seahawks find themselves in an awkward spot. They could use an edge player to play in Pete Carroll’s “LEO” position, but there isn’t a great fit here at #12. Tannehill will strike some as a reach, but he has great upside and the Seahawks could try to skate by with Tarvaris Jackson for another year while Tannehill develops.
13. Arizona Cardinals – David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
The Cardinals find themselves in the opposite position of the Seahawks – they should have top players available at all of their positions of need. DeCastro is, perhaps, the best interior OL prospect in 15 years and could be the first guard since Chris Naeole to go in the top 10. If he’s sitting here at #13, he is close to a no-brainer for Arizona – who badly needs an upgrade on their OL. If they pass on DeCastro, a WR like Michael Floyd or Kendall Wright could make sense. A LB could also be in play here.
14. Dallas Cowboys – Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
The Cowboys OL has been a problem for a long time and always seems to hold them back. They grabbed Tyron Smith in the 1st last year, and this year grab Wisconsin Badgers center Peter Konz. Current starting C Phil Costa is not a realistic long-term solution and upgrading that spot would go a long way to letting Tony Romo and the Cowboys’ offense realize their potential.
15. Philadelphia Eagles – Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
DeSean Jackson is unsigned and unlikely to come back. The Eagles haven’t had a quality “big” receiver for awhile and Michael Vick needs a reliable down-field target. The 6’3 220 lbs Notre Dame WR plays with good physicality and is athletic enough to consistently separate from defenders. Floyd also has good run-after-catch abilities and can contribute as a blocker in the run game.
16. New York Jets – Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
The Jets need a big WR like Floyd or Alshon Jeffery, but Rex Ryan’s defense also needs an infusion of talent in the LB corps. Bart Scott is old, declining and a good bet to be a salary-cap casualty. Dont’a Hightower plays a downhill, hard-hitting style which fits well in New York’s scheme. He also has better athleticism than people give him credit for and is the premier 3-4 ILB in the draft.
17. Cincinnati Bengals – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Leon Hall is coming off a serious Achilles injury and Nate Clements is a free agent after 2012. Kirkpatrick is a tough and aggressive CB who fits a big need for the Bengals. There is some talk that he might be a better fit at safety, which also is a need for the Bengals with Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson as underwhelming starters.
18. San Diego Chargers – Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
Malcolm Floyd was a disappointment playing opposite of Vincent Jackson and the Chargers need an upgrade at WR. There will be plenty of questions about Jeffery’s athleticism and work ethic between now and the draft. If he checks out and runs well, he will likely end up in the mid 1st round. At #18, he is a good value for San Diego and would help Philip Rivers rebound from a mediocre 2011 season.
19. Chicago Bears – Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
The Bears have needed an elite playmaking WR for a long, long time. Kendall Wright is shooting up draft boards now due to his speed and athleticism. He would give Jay Cutler a great deep threat and take some pressure off Matt Forte (if he returns) and the Bears’ running game.
20. Tennessee Titans – Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina
Coach Mike Munchak has stated his desire for a playmaker on defense. Zach Brown has elite speed and athleticism and is the best 4-3 WILL backer in the draft. Playing alongside 2nd year players Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy, Brown would give the Titans one of the youngest and promising LB corps in the NFL.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
The Bengals could use a RB to replace Cedric “3 yards and a cloud of dust” Benson but they could find better value in the 2nd or 3rd round. They need a boost along their offensive line and Cordy Glenn is an impressive prospect who has shown the ability to play a few spots along the line and an impressive run blocker. Playing in the physical AFC North, the Bengals would welcome a road grader like Cordy Glenn
22. Cleveland Browns – Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
The Browns hit a home run in 2011, grabbing Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard to give them a pair of young talents on their DL. While they could use a playmaker on offense (perhaps Lamar Miller, David Wilson or Mohamed Sanu), passing on the talented-but-inconsistent Coples would be a mistake. He’d give the Browns an imposing defensive line which could wreak havoc in the AFC North for years to come
23. Detroit Lions – Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
The Lions loss to the Saints in the playoffs demonstrated just how badly they need to upgrade their defensive backfield. Janoris Jenkins is an elite talent with a lot of off-field baggage who would go a long way in improving Detroit’s pass defense. If the Lions are comfortable with Jenkins’ character he will be too good to pass up at this point in the draft.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona
The Steelers need to replace the aging James Farrior. Burfict is a “love him or hate him” type of prospect. His athleticism isn’t in doubt, but his attitude and instincts have drawn a lot of criticism this year. Playing for the no-nonsense Mike Tomlin and alongside veterans like James Harrison, Burfict could mature into a star LB.
25. Denver Broncos – Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson
The Broncos have a few needs on defense, but could also benefit from giving Tim Tebow another weapon to use on offense. Allen is a well rounded TE prospect who can help block in the run-heavy Broncos offense and also give Tebow an excellent short/intermediate target to utilize. A CB such as Stephon Gilmore or Chase Minnifield could also make sense for Denver here.
26. Houston Texans – Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers
The Texans don’t have a ton of holes on either side of the ball. However, they could use someone to line up opposite star receiver Andre Johnson. Sanu has nice size (6’2 215) and pretty good athleticism. He is a fairly reliable target, with big soft hands and long arms to snatch errant throws. He’s not a polished route runner, but has pretty good quickness in and out of his breaks. He can line up either inside or outside and contribute in all areas of the field.
27. New England Patriots – Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
A NT doesn’t seem to be atop the Pats’ wishlist. But coach Belichick is a believer in Bill Parcells’ “Planet Theory” – the idea that there aren’t a lot of large guys who are athletic enough to play (and play well) in the NFL. Dontari Poe is both very large and deceptively nimble for a 6’5 350 lbs DT. Drafting Poe would allow the Pats to slide Vince Wilfork to 5-technique in a 3-4 front, which they have done with some success over the last few years. In a 40 front, Poe could eat up blockers alongside Wilfork, replacing current Pats DT Kyle Love.
28. Green Bay Packers – Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
Charles Woodson is getting old and Tramon Williams gave up more yardage than any other CB in the league. Alfonzo Dennard is a physical and tough CB who fits well with Dom Capers’ scheme. Dennard is a very talented DB who seems to be sliding a bit due to questions about his athleticism and speed. If he runs well at the combine, he is likely gone by the 28th pick. If he’s here, he has to be Green Bay’s pick.
29. Baltimore Ravens – Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
The Ravens’ biggest needs, C and ILB don’t really match the value on the board. They could try to trade down or they could grab talented Ohio State OT Mike Adams. Michael Oher has been a disappointment at T and Jah Reid might not be the long term answer either. With a lot of wear on current LT Bryant McKinnie, the Ravens could stand to add some reinforcements up front.
30. San Francisco 49ers – Kelechi Osemele, OG, Iowa State
San Francisco was below average in protecting their QB and need to upgrade their OL. Osemele has a terrific package of size, strength and athleticism for an interior lineman. He is an aggressive run blocker who also plays well in the passing game. He’d fit in well in John Harbaugh’s offense. The 49ers could also consider a 2nd tier WR prospect here although they’d probably get better value in the 2nd round.
31. New England Patriots – Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
The Pats need a boost in their secondary. Drafting a CB will allow New England to keep Devin McCourty at safety or perhaps shift 2011 2nd rounder Ras-I Dowling to FS to partner with Pat Chung. Minnifield’s father, Frank, played under coach Bill Belichick in the early 1990’s and Belichick is sure to like the younger Minnifield’s combination of size and athleticism.
32. New York Giants – Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Every draft has a guy who slides a bit more than projected. While Kuechly is generally projected in the top 20 (and could very likely go there), it wouldn’t surprise me if he slides a little. He was extremely productive at Boston College, but is unlikely to impress in combine and pro day drills. The Giants, and former BC coach Tom Coughlin, love Boston College players and Kuechly would fit the Giants’ defense well.
(Originally posted by me at Mocking the Draft)
Bowl season is nearly upon us, and NFL draft talk is starting to kick into high gear. While things will change a lot between now and April’s draft, here is how I envision things could play out:
*Note that I project Landry Jones to go back to school.
1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford.
This one seems pretty obvious. There will be rumblings that maybe Griffin could go here, or the Colts could trade for a king’s ransom but Luck has to be the guy. Whether or not he’s as good as some claim, or whether or not taking a QB with Peyton Manning already in tow is a good idea is irrelevant. The Colts passing on Luck would be a huge surprise.
2. St. Louis Rams – Morris Claiborne, CB LSU
If the Rams end up in the #2 spot, I’d expect them to trade out to someone who wants either Griffin or Barkley (assuming both declare). Since I’m not projecting trades in this mock, Claiborne makes the most sense. If the Rams don’t re-sign Brandon Lloyd, a WR needs to be the pick. The Rams’ CB’s are mediocre at best when healthy and Claiborne is definitely the best DB in the draft
3. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil, OT, USC
There have been rumblings that Kalil will go back to USC, but if he comes out he has to be the pick for the Vikings. With a great RB and a young QB, a solid OL would go a long way towards solidifying the Vikings’ offense. Currently, the Vikings are lining up Charlie Johnson at LT. That’s a sure sign that they need a big-time upgrade on Christian Ponder’s blindside. If Claiborne is still around, I expect the Vikings to give him a long look as well
4. Carolina Panthers – Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
The Panthers really need a DT or LB but this is a terrible draft for those positions. It would be too much of a reach for them to take a front 7 player this high. The Panthers’ WR corps could use an upgrade – Steve Smith is getting old, Brandon LaFell is a nice player but not a gamebreaker and David Gettis is coming off a knee injury. Giving Cam Newton a target like Blackmon could instantly make the Panthers’ offense one of the most exciting in the game.
5. Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
The Redskins have a good thing going on defense with Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, but their offense is a mess. They have lacked a true franchise QB for 20 years (and that’s assuming you count Mark Rypien as a franchise QB). Griffin is likely to impress scouts at the combine and has probably solidified himself as a top 10 pick. Matt Barkley is perhaps a safer (and more likely?) pick here, but Griffin offers a degree of excitement which could be too much for Dan Snyder, Bruce Allen and Shanahan to resist
6. Cleveland Browns – Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
The Browns are in an interesting spot at #6. Come April, they will most likely be sitting on the clock with at least one top QB prospect, one top WR prospect and the best RB prospect on the board. I’m not at all sold on Colt McCoy, but I tend to think that the Browns will give him one more year – one with some real weapons to utilize. Trent Richardson is the fashionable pick here for a reason. This draft is knee-deep in wide receivers for the Browns to add later in the 1st or in the 2nd. The question really is: is Pat Shurmur going to want a RB over a WR given how often he likes to throw? He doesn’t make the draft day decisions, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Browns go with a WR like Michael Floyd instead of the RB.
7. Miami Dolphins – Matt Barkley, QB, USC
Like the Redskins, it’s been a very long time since Miami has a franchise QB. Matt Moore is a decent enough stopgap in case Barkley isn’t ready to start on Day 1. Passing on a QB in 2012 would be a huge mistake for a Dolphins team which isn’t too far away from being competitive.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars – Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
The Jaguars need help just about everywhere. I don’t think they give up on Gabbert quite yet and they might be reluctant to going OT with recent investments in Eben Britton and Eugene Monroe. Quinton Coples could make some sense here, but Jacksonville really has to give Gabbert some weapons if he is to have any chance at success. Michael Floyd’s off-field transgressions might get him pulled from the Jaguars’ draft board, as they are fairly stringent upon selecting “high character” players early. For Jeffery to go this high, he will need to have had an excellent combine and/or Pro Day
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina
The first semi-surprise of the draft is the Buccaneers take the best 4-3 OLB in the draft. Brown is a near-perfect fit for the WILL spot in the Bucs’ defense. While many will think a top 10 pick on Brown is a bit crazy, he is one of the few LB’s in this very poor crop of defensive players who has above-average pass rushing upside. The Bucs could also consider a CB here, with Aqib Talib having off-field issues and Ronde Barber near retirement.
10. Kansas City Chiefs – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The Chiefs really need a QB but there isn’t one worth taking at this point. If Landry Jones comes out, he could be a consideration here. The Chiefs also have some holes in their front 7 which need to be addressed but they have to find a solution at OT. 10th overall might be too high for a RT to replace the below-average Barry Richardson, but for a team that loves to run the ball a high-quality OL would go a long way.
11. Philadelphia Eagles – Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
With Manti Te’o going back to school for 2012, Kuechly shoots up into a surefire top 15 pick. The Eagles’ LB’s are abysmal and desperately need an upgrade. Kuechly, a highly productive and versatile linebacker, will go a long way in solidifying the Eagles defense.
12. Buffalo Bills – Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
The Bills could go in a number of directions here. They could grab an OT or even WR in this spot but they make a slight reach to grab the top 3-4 OLB available. Upshaw would instantly upgrade the Bills’ pass rush and provides a fair bit of versatility.
13. Arizona Cardinals – Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
The Cardinals have seemingly had OL struggles forever and upgrading RT Brandon Keith is a must. Martin could play either RT or LT (with Levi Brown flipping over to the right side) and will bring some stability to a perpetually problematic unit. Don’t rule out a LB if there is a post-Combine riser.
14. Seattle Seahawks -Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
The Seahawks absolutely have to come out of the 2012 draft with a young QB. If they miss out on the “big 3” and Landry Jones goes back to school, Tannehill has to be their guy. While many draft experts and fans will be screaming “reach!!!”, the naturally exuberant Pete Carroll will be plenty “pumped and jacked” to have a better option than Tarvaris Jackson or Charlie Whitehurst. Passing on Tannehill here would put the Seahawks in a tough position – they would likely have to trade up from their mid-2nd round pick or settle for a guy like Nick Foles or E.J. Manuel
15. San Diego Chargers – David DeCastro, G, Stanford
DeCastro is possibly the best guard prospect since Chris Naeole in 1997. The Chargers’ OL is a mess with injuries and under-producing talent. All-Pro guard Kris Dielman is reportedly considering retirement after suffering a seizure following a concussion. DeCastro is a big, mean guy who has surprising quickness for his size. He’d look pretty good opening holes for Ryan Mathews.
16. Dallas Cowboys – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Cowboys need a CB to play opposite Mike Jenkins. Terence Newman is getting old and has a high price tag. Kirkpatrick gives the Cowboys some size to match up with the NFC’s taller receivers. He offers the aggressiveness and versatility that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan likes in his CB’s.
17. Tennessee Titans – Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Derrick Morgan and Jason Jones have both been underwhelming for the Titans and Coples is too good to pass up here. He has top 10 talent, but lacks the consistency that you’d like to see from a player taken that early.
18. New York Giants – Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
The Giants need help in a few places, including LB, but Adams is a great value pick at #18. Kareem McKenzie and David Diehl both look to be at the end of the line and the Giants have very little behind either. Adams can most likely be an opening day starter at RT with some potential to play LT down the road.
19. Chicago Bears – Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
It would be a bit surprising if Floyd drops this far, especially if his character issues are smoothed over in combine interviews. The Bears need some help at OL (as always) but need a truly dynamic receiving option for Jay Cutler. The recently re-signed Earl Bennett is a nice complementary player, but the Bears haven’t had an elite WR in a long time. If they can re-sign Matt Forte, Chicago will have a very nice arsenal of weapons.
20. Cincinnati Bengals – Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
Cedric Benson is unsigned, has legal troubles, and isn’t very good. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green give the Bengals an exciting offensive core, but they need to get a RB to take some of the pressure off the passing game. Miller has an excellent combination of size and speed and gives the Bengals another home-run threat for their developing offense.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (via Oakland) – Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
Johnathan Joseph is gone and Leon Hall has a torn Achilles. There is serious doubt as to whether or not Hall will be able to get back to his 2009 All-Pro form. Even if Hall rebounds, there is plenty of room to upgrade from Nate Clements and Kelly Jennings. Dennard lacks the top-end speed that the Bengals often covet, but he’s the best guy on the board and should make for a highly productive NFL player.
22.Cleveland Browns (via Atlanta) – Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
With Trent Richardson in tow, the Browns have to add an explosive receiver to help the seemingly overwhelmed Colt McCoy. Wright is a burner who will give the Browns their first true deep threat in years. It might seem a little early for him, but smaller, speedy WR’s are en vogue right now and Pat Shurmur loves to throw the ball.
23. New York Jets – Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
If there is one coach to whom Vontaze Burfict could respond, it’s Rex Ryan. Burfict has a lot of questions surrounding him about his character, coachability and instincts but his upside is very high if he can harness his ability. The Jets need help at S, G, and OLB but Ryan will have a hard time passing up Burfict who would make an excellent replacement for the aging Bart Scott.
24. Denver Broncos – Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
The stop gap DT’s in Denver, Bunkley and Thomas, have held up surprisingly well. However, it would be a surprise if the Broncos didn’t try to upgrade this spot early in the draft. Poe is a massive DT with pretty good mobility for his size. Post-combine, he is likely to shoot up the boards as he appeals to both 4-3 and 3-4 teams. A CB could also be a consideration here.
25. Detroit Lions – Levy Adcock, OT, Oklahoma State
The Lions’ OL has needed a premium upgrade for awhile now and Adcock would be a huge upgrade over just about anyone on their current unit. Detroit has struggled with both run blocking and pass protection this year. Adcock isn’t the toughest, meanest guy out there but he is huge with above average athleticism. An offensive guard could also warrant consideration.
26. New England Patriots – Devon Still, DT, Penn State
The Patriots will most likely be looking to trade one of their 1st round picks as usual. If they stay put, Still is an easy choice for Bill Belichick. He offers the size and versatility that Belichick likes in his lineman and could lineup next to Vince Wilfork inside in a 40 front or kick out to 5-technique if the Patriots return to a 3-4 scheme. Penn State DL don’t have the best track record of success in the NFL, but it would be tough to pass up on Stll at this point.
27. San Francisco 49ers – T.J. McDonald, FS, USC
The 49ers need a big-play WR, but it’s probably too early for any of the guys still on the board so a safety makes the most sense. Dashon Goldson is a pending free agent (and upgradable even if he were to return). McDonald offers a similar playmaking ability and hard-hitting approach as his father did for the 49ers in the late 1990’s. He has some issues with personal foul penalties, and needs some refinement in his technique, but McDonald has the most upside of any safety in what is looking like another terrible crop.
28. New England Patriots – Mark Barron, S, Alabama
The worst kept secret in the NFL is that Bill Belichick’s secondary is a horror show. While there is some talent (both underachieving and injured) at CB, safety is a huge problem. Pat Chung is a good player, but has really struggled with injuries. Matthew Slater, a WR/special teams ace is starting at FS. James Ihedigbo and Sergio Brown should strictly stick to kick coverage units. The Patriots have to address the safety position in a big way this offseason. While the Patriots need a FS more than a SS, they need the best possible guy they can get which is Barron. An edge rusher like Whitney Mercilus or Brandon Jenkins could be a possibility at this spot, if the Patriots don’t trade out
29. Houston Texans – Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
The Texans don’t have too many glaring holes, but could use an upgrade along their OL. At #29, Cordy Glenn is a steal. He has impressive physical tools, the size and ability that scouts drool over. Glenn projects to a guard in the NFL but could make it at RT as well. The already elite running game of the Texans would become even more deadly with Glenn paving the way for Arian Foster and Ben Tate.
30. Baltimore Ravens – Don’ta Hightower, ILB, Alabama
Ray Lewis is nearing the end of his Hall Of Fame career and the Ravens don’t have much depth at ILB. Hightower is a pretty good fit for the Ravens D. He plays the hard-hitting and aggressive style hat has become synonymous with Ravens football. He is a decent blitzer from the inside and has the size and strength to take on NFL linemen.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers – Kelechi Osemele, OG, Iowa State
The Steelers need a lot of help on their OL. Current LG Chris Kemoeatu is unlikely to return in 2012 and RG Ramon Foster hasn’t established himself as a permanent fixture along the line. Osemele would help the Steelers’ mediocre running game, as well as help prevent Ben Roethlisberger from taking a beating game in and game out. If Casey Hampton retires, a NT like Josh Chapman has to be a consideration here.
32. Green Bay Packers – Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson
The Packers defensive line has struggled a bit this year and could use an infusion of young talent at the 5-technique spot. Thompson is perhaps best suited for the 4-3, but he could fit in Dom Capers’ attacking 1-gap 3-4 scheme. He will remind Green Bay fans of former Packers’ DL Cullen Jenkins in his ability to push the pocket and also help in stuffing the run. This low in the first round, he is a steal.