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344 Days Until The 2013 Draft: 3 Prospects To Keep An Eye On

May 18, 2012 Leave a comment

The 2012 rookie class has yet to play a snap of even exhibition football and already the 2013 draft process is underway. While things will change significantly between now and next April (it wasn’t that long ago that Vontaze Burfict was considered a possible 1st rounder and Dontari Poe was a mid-round sleeper). However, college football and NFL draft junkies are always on the lookout for the next big riser, sleeper prospect or possibly the 2013 equivalent of Burfict. Here are a few guys who should be monitored closely over the next 11 months:

Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA
– Nephew of former NFL (Patriots, Seahawks) TE Christian Fauria, he has the size and athleticism that scouts drool over. While 2012 seemed to be a year where a lot of teams reached in the draft in the hopes of having their own Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez type tandem, Fauria could be the real deal. For a guy in excess of 6’7 250+ lbs, he can out-jump many DB’s and has deceptive playing speed – even if he doesn’t time particularly well in the 40 yard dash. The big knock on Fauria, and what could affect his stock more than anything, is that he is very raw as both a blocker and a route runner. He’s probably somewhere between where Graham (very raw) and Gronkowski (more polished) were when they came out. If he can develop these skills or if a coach falls in love with his physical attributes, he could go in the late 1st round.

Mark Jackson, OT, Glenville State
– He’s huge and has the type of footwork and surprising nimbleness which tends to get O-Linemen drafted very early in the NFL. For a guy at such a tiny school (though he is a transfer from Illinois), his technique is better than expected. In fact, Jackson’s fundamentals might be better than all but a few of the elite bigger school guys. He projects to be a punishing run blocker who can fire out of his stance and take on edge rushers at the NFL level. He’s a mid-rounder on a lot of boards already, and with a good year and offseason could work his way into top 50 contention.

Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinios – As of now, Buchanan is probably an early 2nd round prospect who I’ve seen listed in the 1st round of some mock drafts. Like his former teammate Whitney Mercilus, I don’t see what the fuss is about. He has a nice frame (listed 6’6 240 and the type of frame which could easily bulk up 20 lbs) and has been productive but on tape he looks fairly pedestrian. The Illinois defensive scheme and the amount of attention offenses paid Mercilus gave Buchanan a lot of opportunities to make plays. However, he looks more like a guy who will take what is there rather than being able to create plays on his own. While he has a nice frame, he doesn’t play with violence or power and doesn’t have the athleticism to consistently beat quality OL. He doesn’t look to be an impact player and could be in for a fall if offenses are able to contain him more easily with Mercilus now playing on Sundays. That said, a productive year in the attacking Illini defense could get him drafted in the same range as his former teammate.

2012 Draft Recap: AFC South

This is the 2nd of 8 divisional wrap ups. You can find the AFC East here:

AFC East Recap

Indianapolis Colts – There was no where to go but up for Indianapolis and obviously their draft hinges on the arm of Andrew Luck. If he flops, it won’t matter how good the rest of the class is – the 2012 draft will forever be remembered as the “Luck draft”. To go along with their brand new signal caller, the Colts added Luck’s college TE Coby Fleener who will remind Indianapolis fans of the recently departed Dallas Clark with his ability to get yards over the middle. The pair of Dwayne Allen and T.Y. Hilton potentially gives Luck other weapons, though I’m not a fan of Hilton’s – frail looking WR’s with ball security problems don’t often turn out well in the pros. Snagging Vick Ballard and Josh Chapman in the 5th seems like good value, with Chapman possibly being the anchor that Chuck Pagano needs if he goes with a 3-4 defense. Not adding more talent on the defensive side was a bit curious, though it makes sense that the Colts would spend their first rebuilding year trying to make Luck as comfortable as possible. Undrafted DB Michah Pellerin could pay off, as the small school sleeper was a guy I thought could have gone as early as the late 4th or early 5th.

Houston Texans – For a team that has drafted fairly well lately, their draft this year left me scratching my head. Whitney Mercilus is a guy I liked a lot more as a 4-3 LE than an OLB in a 3-4. Wade Phillips certainly can get the most out of his edge rushers, and chances are he will have Mercilus rush early and often to prevent the rookie from having to drop into coverage. Taking an edge rusher when they already have Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed seems like possible overkill. You can certainly never have too many pass rushers, but getting all three of those guys on the field at the same time without leaving the defense vulnerable to big rushing yardage is going to be an interesting challenge for coach Kubiak and Phillips. Not addressing the WR spot until the 3rd round was somewhat defensible, obviously they loved the value of Mercilus in the late 1st and the draft was very deep at the receiver spot. However, taking DeVier Posey as the answer to the big hole opposite Andre Johnson is one of the most questionable moves of the draft. Even were he clean off-field, Posey’s stock as a receiver was in a bit of a free-fall and there appeared to be a number of other options. 4th rounder Keshawn Martin might be a better bet to contribute, but like Posey seems like a potential reach. Jared Crick in the 4th was a good value pick, if there ever was a defensive scheme for him to succeed in (and it could be the only one he can succeed in at the NFL level), it’s Wade Phillips’ attacking 3-4. He could be a nice role player to give J.J. Watt a breather. Adding Dwight Jones (another overrated and questionable character WR) might yield dividends, but their best undrafted finds could be LB Shawn Loiseau and S Eddie Pleasant.

Jacksonville Jaguars
– Andre Branch in the 2nd could be a nice value, though I’m not as high on him as some. The rest of the Jaguars picks seem underwhelming. Justin Blackmon has tons of upside, and the Jaguars badly need a top WR, but I’m not convinced he was really worth a top 10 pick. It’s tough to imagine him as being a top 5 WR in the league at any point in his career, and might not ever be a top 10 guy. Drafting a punter in the 3rd was strange insofar as Brian Anger doesn’t strike me as that great of a prospect. Punters are more important than people like to pretend (and let’s face it, most 3rd round picks are marginal starters at best, so landing a potential 10 year player like a punter is good value if he works out). Just look at the impact Steve Weatherford had in the Super Bowl – almost single-handedly keeping the Patriots pinned deep in their own territory and is a true unsung hero of the Giants’ win. 7th rounder Jeris Pendleton is an interesting story but a long-shot. Undrafted Mike Brewster is the biggest name in the bunch, though there’s a reason he dropped from a 1st round consideration to not being selected – he’s just never lived up to his college hype. Still, he has intriguing upside if he can get himself on track.

Tennessee Titans – Individually, I like the prospects the Titans took. Collectively though, and given the team’s needs, it was strange to see it come together in the manner it did. Signing Kam Wimbley before the draft cut down the team’s need for an edge player, but going with a WR in the 1st surprised a lot of people. Maybe the team feels Kenny Britt isn’t a good bet to rebound to pre-injury form or stay out of trouble? The Titans did throw the ball with surprising frequency last year, so it’s possible they plan on airing it out a lot again in 2012 and want more playmakers in their receiving corps. Zach Brown in the 2nd is a boom-or-bust type, but he fits the Titans’ scheme really well. Taylor Thompson was one of the most intriguing prospects to come out, the converted DE has great athleticism and size for the TE position. Mike Martin is a little short but looks to have solid upside as a rotational player. Markelle Martin was vastly overrated in the beginning of the draft process (at one point, he was being mocked in the 2nd round) but as a 6th rounder he could add some value in sub packages or on special teams. DaJohn Harris could stick as an undrafted free agent.

Overall, the Colts’ class has the most obvious potential – even outside of Luck. The other three teams seemed to be a mixed bag of guys I liked and guys I didn’t like. It doesn’t look like Jacksonville or Tennessee did enough to close the gap between themselves and Houston as the top team in the division but it also doesn’t look like the Texans’ draft class put them definitively atop the AFC contenders. If the Texans are healthy, they should win the AFC South comfortably, even if they get nothing from their draft class. For the Jaguars or Titans to supplant Houston as division champs, they will need their 2nd year QB’s (Gabbert and Locker) to play extremely well and get some first year impact from their draft classees.

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.

 

13 Days Til The Draft: Three Up, Three Down

April 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Two weeks from now, we’ll be somewhere in the 2nd or 3rd round. As we approach the big day, here are three prospects on the way up and three on the way down:

 

Three Up:

 

1. Chandler Jones – Jones seems to finally be getting media exposure as a potential mid-1st round pick. Part of the increased attention has been due to the lackluster performances of other DE prospects (Quinton Coples, Courntey Upshaw) and the lack of  a true pass rush threat in this draft. After Melvin Ingram (who seems to be entrenched as a Top 10 pick), none of the next group of DE’s has established themselves as solid 1st rounders. Coples, Upshaw and Nick Perry still figure to be 1st rounders but they might have been leap-frogged by both Jones and Shea McClellin. Watching Jones closely, it’s tough to understand why he’s below those other guys as a mid-late 1st round option. He gets knocked for an inconsistent first step, but unlike many of the other guys in this draft, Jones can use his big wingspan and power to disengage from blockers and can beat OL either outside or on inside stunts. Furthermore, he’s a sturdy run defender who can plow through contact and make plays on ball-carriers behind the line. He needs some technique work, but he looks like a New York Giants style DL. He will be able to line up all over the formation and be successful.

 

2. Chase Minnifield – He’s been flying under the radar for months and it’s still tough to figure exactly where Minnifield will get selected. With the red flags surrounding some of the top CB prospects, it’s curious that Minnifield isn’t getting late 1st/early 2nd round consideration. There aren’t many guys  in this year’s draft who are as pro ready as he is if you are running a zone defense. He is a good athlete who will be an immediate contributor on special teams and has the quickness and fluidity to play either inside or outside. He doesn’t have superstar upside, which could be why he is getting overlooked, but he has a lot going for him and should make some team very happy in the 2nd round.

 

3. Brian Quick – The 2012 draft is absolutely loaded at the WR position, especially in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. Regardless of what your favorite team likes in a receiver, there is almost sure to be a guy in the 2nd tier of prospects who will fit their needs. While guys like Mohamed Sanu, Kendall Wright, Stephen Hill and Rueben Randle seem to get the most consideration at the end of round 1/early round 2, Brian Quick deserves some serious consideration. A small school guy who needs some (a lot?) of coaching, he is unlikely to get selected in the 1st, but his size and athleticism make him worth a long look at the top of round 2. At nearly 6’4, 220 lbs, running a 4.5 40 yard dash and possessing terrific leaping ability, he has all the tools to be a top NFL WR. Any coach who thinks Quick can learn to run a route tree should be clamoring for this guy after the top WR’s come off the board.

 

Three Down:

 

1. Whitney Mercilus – I’m surprised so many are buying into Mercilus’ one year of college production. The success of Jason Pierre-Paul seems to have convinced people that athletic guys with limited experience are worth high value picks. Of course, JPP is the exception more than the rule but his impact with the Giants will get Mercilus drafted half a round earlier than he probably should. Mercilus’ biggest strength is a good first step and the athleticism to beat college OT’s off the snap. He most likely isn’t going to beat NFL quality tackles with pure athleticism like he did last year at Illinois. Unfortunately for Mercilus, he’s not a particularly effective player after contact. He gets stood up too often and can get pushed out of the play by tackles with good footwork and the agility to counter his pass rush. As a run defender, he leaves a lot to be desired. Simply put, if he’s not getting to the QB and pinning his ears back, he isn’t a top pick in this draft. A GM who invests a high pick in Mercilus is gambling that he can add pass rush moves to his repertoire and develop the ability to go through OT’s and not just around them. He’s an interesting prospect, but not one I’d invest a top 40 pick in.

 

2. Courtney Upshaw – For a guy who was briefly considered a top 10 talent (possibly to Buffalo or Miami), Upshaw has probably fallen out of early 1st round consideration. His terrible showing at the combine in linebacker drills has really left him in no-man’s land as a prospect. 3-4 scheme teams are probably not going to want to invest an early pick in a guy who is as stiff as Upshaw showed. As a 4-3 DE, he doesn’t project to be a huge sack guy and run-stuffing DE’s who can chip in a few sacks just aren’t worth 1st round consideration. Don’t be surprised if Upshaw slides down to the end of round 1 or early round 2.

 

3. Jonathan Martin – Is there a player who has had a worse offseason than Jonathan Martin? From a top 10 consideration to a possible 2nd round pick. The best thing Martin has going for him right now is that other top OT prospects like Mike Adams and Zebrie Sanders have also shown poorly since the end of the college football regular season. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Martin drop out of round 1.

Mock Draft V. 4.0

March 25, 2012 Leave a comment

With the offseason in high gear, free agency and trades have significantly changed some teams’ draft needs. Here’s an updated look at how the 1st round of April’s draft could go:

1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck – QB – Stanford

A no-brainer at this point. Luck will be the face of the Colts for the foreseeable future.

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

Another obvious selection, the Redskins gave up a small fortune to get the franchise QB they have lacked for a very long time.

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

As much of a sure thing as the first two picks are at this point, the Vikings’ 3rd overall pick is starting to feel like a lock as well. Kalil fills a huge hole and represents a top talent at a premium position. The only other consideration here (assuming Minnesota doesn’t trade down) is CB Morris Claiborne, but it’s tough to see the zone-defense Vikings passing up a LT for a CB. If they ran more man-to-man, it could be possible for Claiborne to go here but Kalil is better value for Minnesota.

4. Cleveland Browns – Trent Richardson – RB – Alabama

This is another pick which seemingly is locked in, though not to the same extent as the first three. The Browns desperately need playmakers on offense and Richardson is one of the best RB’s to come out of college in the last 5-10 years. That said, a WR like Justin Blackmon wouldn’t be a shock and they could even go with Claiborne if they feel they can address the offense later. Ryan Tannehill could draw some consideration here as well, though #4 seems mighty early for him.

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

The Bucs have been aggressive in free agency, landing some high-priced and big-name players. However, they still have a big need at CB and it would be a real shock if they passed on Claiborne at this spot. Richardson is the only other obvious choice here if he makes it past Cleveland.

6. St. Louis Rams – Justin Blackmon – WR – Oklahoma State

Blackmon has been tied to the Rams forever and getting him at #6 seems to be a solid meeting of need and value. The Rams clearly need help at receiver and Blackmon is the best on the board. However, this is a spot where we might see our first big surprise – with the Rams passing up the WR to bolster either their offensive or defensive line.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars – Quinton Coples – DE – North Carolina

The Jaguars have three places to go at #7 – OL, WR or pass-rusher. Michael Floyd is the best WR on this board but his character might be too suspect for GM Gene Smith. Riley Reiff could be in play here, but Quinton Coples’ upside is tough to pass up. Yes, he’s inconsistent and has a high “bust factor” but the Jags pass rush was pitiful last year outside of recently re-signed Jeremy Mincey. If he can get and stay motivated, Coples has game-changing ability that Jacksonville’s D has missed for awhile.

8. Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill – QB – Texas A&M

They missed out on Manning. They missed out on (or passed on) Matt Flynn. The Dolphins have been searching for a franchise QB for a decade and cannot go another offseason without adding a top talent at the spot. Tannehill has a great upside, though he’s raw and (like the aforementioned Coples) comes with a big risk of busting. However, the drop between Tannehill and the remaining QB’s on the board is steep and other than possibly over-aged Brandon Weeden none look like potential franchise guys. Either David Garrard or Matt Moore can hold the fort for a year or two if Tannehill needs a lot of time to develop.

9. Carolina Panthers – Dontari Poe – DT – Memphis

Offensive tackle (Riley Reiff?) is a possibility here, but the Panthers have needed an impact DT for a long, long time. Poe might seem like a reach in the top 10, but don’t be surprised if he ends up going this early a month from now. He has good athleticism for his massive size and has versatility to play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 front – which should intrigue coach Ron Rivera. A different DT (Fletcher Cox?) or WR (Michael Floyd?) could work here as well. Carolina has a lot of options and should be able to land an impact player at a number of positions.

10. Buffalo Bills – Michael Floyd – WR – Notre Dame

The Bills have addressed their DL in a big way – adding Mark Anderson and Mario Williams. Despite re-signing Stevie Johnson, they still badly need an improvement in their WR corps. Floyd is a top talent, with the size and athleticism to give opposing defenses nightmares.

11. Kansas City Chiefs – David DeCastro – OG – Stanford

The Chiefs have options here – Riley Reiff and Luke Kuechly among them. If Dontari Poe is still here at #11, he’s a possibility as well. However, a run-oriented team like Kansas CIty would really benefit from an elite guard like DeCastro – possibly the best prospect at the position in over a decade. He would look pretty good opening holes for Peyton Hillis and Jamaal Charles and could help make the Chiefs’ running game the best in the league.

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

Even if David Hawthorne is re-signed, the Seahawks could use help at LB. If he’s not retained, the MLB spot is a huge weakness entering the draft. Pass-rusher (the LEO spot) is another big need but Kuechly has had a tremendous offseason and it’s going to be tough for Seattle to pass on him.

13. Arizona Cardinals – Riley Reiff – OT – Iowa

The Cardinals need a LT badly – a shaky OL isn’t going to help whoever ends up at QB next year. Reiff is a potential top 10 talent who represents a huge upgrade for the Arizona line. A WR or potentially an edge rusher could be in play, but it’s very difficult to see Arizona passing up a top LT prospect like Reiff.

14. Dallas Cowboys – Melvin Ingram – OLB – South Carolina

Despite franchising Anthony Spencer, the Cowboys could use an upgrade opposite DeMarcus Ware. More to the point, they need a playmaker on defense who takes some attention away from Ware. Ingram isn’t the biggest or fastest guy, but he has a knack for coming through with big plays and should help bolster the Dallas front 7. If David DeCastro is available here, he would be a strong consideration for the Cowboys as well.

15. Philadelphia Eagles – Fletcher Cox – DT – Mississippi State

The Eagles’ biggest need – MLB – was addressed by acquiring DeMeco Ryans from Houston. They could take a WR to complement the recently re-signed DeSean Jackson, though there isn’t a great value on the board here. A defensive tackle is also near the top of Philly’s wish list and Fletcher Cox has huge upside. A strong, agile defender, Cox could prove to be the best interior pass rusher in the 2012 draft.

16. New York Jets – Nick Perry – DE – Southern California

Despite having salvaged Aaron Maybin and re-signing Bryan Thomas, the Jets are in need of a pass rusher and Nick Perry is a fantastic value at this spot. His size and explosiveness will make him a force in the AFC East for years to come.

17. Cincinnati Bengals – Cordy Glenn – OG – Georgia

The Bengals have a huge need at OG and Cordy Glenn is a true mauler with the athleticism to be a truly elite player. Solidifying the line will help let 2nd year QB Andy Dalton develop and should improve the Bengals running game which struggled at times last year.

18. San Diego Chargers – Courtney Upshaw – OLB – Alabama

Upshaw has seen his stock take a bit of a nose dive since the end of the college football season. Once projected as a top 10 pick, it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if Upshaw drops to the 2nd half of the round. While there are some questions about his size, length and ability to play in space, his pass-rushing potential is still very appealing – especially to a team like San Diego which has lacked a top pass-rusher at the OLB spot for a few years. The Chargers also have a huge hole at WR and could go with Kendall Wright, Rueben Randle or possibly Stephen Hill to replace the departed Vincent Jackson.

 

19. Chicago Bears – Michael Brockers – DT – LSU

Having addressed their perpetual WR problem by acquiring Brandon Marshall, the Bears have a few options at #19. Having been spurned by free agent DE Jeremy Mincey, the Bears still need an upgrade opposite Julius Peppers so Whitney Merciclus could be in play. A selection at OT also wouldn’t come as a surprise with Jonathan Martin being an option. However, Amobi Okoye is still unsigned and Michael Brockers’ upside at this point is irresistible. The Bears won’t be able to pass up the raw but talented former LSU DT.

20. Tennessee Titans – Whitney Mercilus – DE – Illinois

It’s tough to gauge where the one-year wonder Mercilus will go but if he’s still on the board at #20, the Titans will take a long look at him. Tennessee has a big hole at DE and have been searching for a pass-rusher at that spot for awhile and Mercilus has some of the best pass rushing ability in the draft.

21. Cincinnati Bengals – Kendall Wright – WR – Baylor

Having added a RB in BenJarvus Green-Ellis and bolstering the OL a few selections ago with Cordy Glenn, it’s time for the Bengals to add a dynamic threat to complement A.J. Green at WR. Wright took some flak for running poorly at the combine, but it’s clear that he plays a lot faster than his 4.6 time indicates. He had a great pro day last week and his athleticism and play-making ability will make the Bengals passing attack extremely difficult to contain.

22. Cleveland Browns – Dre Kirkpatrick – CB – Alabama

Dre Kirkpatrick started the 2011-12 offseason as a potential top 15 pick. However, his run in with the law and a mediocre combine (including reportedly lackluster interviews) have dropped him a little. The Browns need a WR to help Colt McCoy, but they can grab one pretty easily in the 2nd round – plus none of the remaining WR’s are great value here. Kirkpatrick is a good fit lining up opposite Joe Haden, and could potentially shift to safety where the Browns are thin.

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

A lot has been made of Janoris Jenkins’ off-field and character issues. However, someone will take a chance on him in the 1st and the Lions seem like a good fit for his skills. Detroit has a fair bit of talent on defense, but lack the DB’s necessary to contain the top NFC passing attacks. Jenkins talent has never been in question, if he had a clean character, he could potentially be a top 10 pick. Taking a gamble on him here makes a lot of sense for the Lions.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Jonathan Martin – OT – Stanford

The Steelers could go in a number of directions at #24. They could use a ILB to replace James Farrior – Dont’a Hightower could be a fit. They could also add a DB, NT or OG. Even a RB isn’t totally out of the question, though probably unlikely until round 2 or 3. However, they will be very hard pressed to pass up Jonathan Martin at this spot. Some questions have come up about Martin since a lackluster pro day which could cause him to slide to this point of the 1st round. If he’s there in the final third of the round, Pittsburgh won’t let him get past them.

25. Denver Broncos – Devon Still – DT – Penn State

The Broncos have made the biggest news of the offseason, adding Peyton Manning and shipping out Tim Tebow. However, they lost Brodrick Bunkley to the Saints and really need to upgrade their interior DL. Devon Still has a nice combo of strength and athleticism for his size and could be a true impact player along Denver’s line.

26. Houston Texans – Rueben Randle – WR – LSU

WR is an obvious need for Texans with the team having few other glaring holes. Finding a quality #2 WR to take some pressure off Andre Johnson is a must for Houston. Randle fits the offensive scheme pretty well and possesses good size and pretty good speed. He would make the already dangerous Texans offense even more potent.

27. New England Patriots – Andre Branch – DE – Clemson

Even before losing Mark Anderson to AFC East rival Buffalo the Patriots needed to upgrade their edge-rusher situation. It looks likely that the Patriots will move back to more 3-4 looks in 2012 and Andre Branch would look very good lined up opposite Rob Ninkovich at OLB. He has the size and length that coach Belichick covets and gives the Pats the OLB/DE they have sorely missed since Willie McGinest left half a decade ago.

28. Green Bay Packers – Kendall Reyes – DT – Connecticut

The Packers struggled to replace Cullen Jenkins last year and Mike Neal is constantly hurt (and now suspended). Kendall Reyes is a late riser who has good feet and strength. He should turn out to be an excellent 5-technique in the NFL and will look great lined up next to B.J. Raji.

29. Baltimore Ravens – Mark Barron – SS – Alabama

Ed Reed can’t play forever and the Ravens’ other options at safety aren’t great. Barron is a tough player who fits what they do defensively and has the right attitude to succeed in Baltimore. Other options could include a ILB like Dont’a Hightower or OL help.

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

The 49ers have added some intriguing weapons for Alex Smtih – Randy Moss and Mario Manningham – but they are still lacking a reliable red-zone threat other than Vernon Davis. It’s possible Moss could recapture his 2007-2009 form, but San Francisco could stand to add some over-the-middle options to complement their outside threats. Fleener should be able to fit in quickly, having played under coach Harbaugh in college.

31. New England Patriots – Harrison Smith – SS – Notre Dame

The Patriots have done a nice job filling some holes in free agency but still have a glaring need at safety. Pat Chung is a solid starter but often banged up. Other internal options Sergio Brown and recently signed Steve Gregory are not guys you want starting on a potential playoff team. Harrison Smith has been climbing draft boards after showing off some good skills and interviewing well at the Combine. He’s the smart, tough type player Bill Belichick loves.

32. New York Giants – Dont’a Hightower – ILB – Alabama

The defending Super Bowl champs don’t have a ton of holes to fill, and usually just go with the best player available. Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower can fill one of the Giants’ few true needs – MLB – and also represents the best player on the board at this point. A hard nosed, down-hill linebacker, Hightower will solidify the middle of New York’s D.

 

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.

Mock Draft V. 2.0

January 11, 2012 Leave a comment

(Originally posted at Mocking The Draft)

With the college football season in the books, it’s time for another mock draft. While things are still very fluid, an early picture of the 1st round is starting to form. At this point, it looks like the 1st round will be heavy on offensive talent with perhaps as few as 12 defensive players being selected. Here’s how I see things playing out as things stand right now:

*Note that I am not projecting trades

 

1. Indianapolis ColtsAndrew Luck, QB, Stanford

This is a no-brainer at this point. Unless some team offers the Colts an absolutely staggering package of picks/players, Luck will be Peyton Manning’s heir apparent

2. St. Louis RamsJustin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

The Rams could go in a number of different directions here. If Brandon Lloyd is to be believed, he will be following Josh McDaniels to New England. Sam Bradford desperately needs a high caliber weapon to throw to. Blackmon might not be the 2nd best player in the draft, but he’s a top talent at a position of glaring need. In reality, the Rams will probably be fielding offers for this pick from teams who want to grab Robert Griffin III.

3. Minnesota VikingsMatt Kalil, OT, USC

The Vikings have needed a long term solution at LT for a couple of years and Kalil is an elite prospect at the position. He’s probably not in the Joe Thomas/Jake Long class but he’s close. He can start from day 1 and protect young QB Christian Ponder’s blindside for the foreseeable future

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

It’s doubtful that Griffin is still around for the Browns, but if he is, they cannot pass on him. Colt McCoy has looked pedestrian (on his best days) and while McCoy doesn’t have much to work with, he hardly elevates the game of those around him. The presence of McCoy allows the Browns to develop Griffin slowly as opposed to other teams who might need to rush the raw QB into action early

5. Tampa Bay BuccaneersMorris Claiborne, CB, LSU

Aqib Talib is a great talent at CB, but he has obvious and significant character issues. It remains to be seen if their new coach will want to deal with Talib’s problems. Ronde Barber is near retirement. Claiborne can be the cornerstone on an otherwise awful defense.

6. Washington RedskinsRyan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M

This will strike a lot of people as being a reach but the Redskins simply cannot go another offseason without securing a long-term solution at QB. If they can’t go up to get Griffin, Tannehill makes sense. While he might not have Top 10 talent, he is a guy who is slowly creeping his way into mid-late 1st round consideration and a good combine could get him selected a lot earlier than some are expecting. Tannehill is raw, but clearly a step ahead of most of the 2nd tier options.

7. Jacksonville JaguarsRiley Reiff, OT, Iowa

Despite spending some recent high picks on OL, the Jaguars are shaky up front. As their fans found out last year, Blaine Gabbert doesn’t handle pressure all that well. To build up his confidence and let him mature as a passer, the Jags need to build a better wall in front of their young signalcaller. Reiff isn’t the most athletic OT you’ll find, but he has terrific strength and a high football IQ. He will test well at the Combine and solidify himself as a surefire Top 10 pick

8. Carolina PanthersQuinton Coples, DL, UNC

The Panthers have struggled with mediocre (at best) DT play for awhile now. Coples is a local guy who can step in and provide them with some push in the middle. Ron Rivera has the type of personality which should motive the enigmatic and inconsistent defensive lineman.

9. Miami Dolphins – Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford

While a QB is probably atop the Dolphins’ draft day wishlist, both of the top options and the backup plan are off the board. Shifting gears, they grab an immediate upgrade to their RT spot in Martin. The Dolphins were stuck with Marc Columbo at RT last year and needless to say, it didn’t produce the desired results. Martin, who plays with a mean streak, is as solid of a run-blocker as you’ll find in this draft. He will help pave the way for 2011 2nd round RB Daniel Thomas

10. Buffalo BillsDre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

The Bills have a few holes they need to fill but CB is amongst the most pressing. Terrence McGee has battled injuries the last 2 years and neither Leodis McKelvin nor Drayton Florence inspire a lot of confidence. Kirkpatrick is a big CB (6’2,190) who should be able to match up well with division rival receivers such as Brandon Marshall.

11. Kansas City ChiefsDavid DeCastro, G, Stanford

DeCastro is possibly the best offensive guard prospect in 15 years and has a shot to be the first guard drafted in the top 10 since Chris Naeole in 1997. While the Chiefs really need an upgrade at QB, there is nobody left who makes sense at #11. Instead, they take the imposing road grader from Stanford. He will help keep the pocket clean for whichever QB the Chiefs settle on and should be able to create running lanes for Jamaal Charles and company.

12. Seattle SeahawksDevon Still, DT, Penn State

The Seahawks find themselves in no-man’s land here. The QB’s are gone and it’s probably too early to consider any of the remaining DE’s (to play the LEO position). If Marshawn Lynch departs, a RB would be a possibility. However, their pass rush is lacking, especially from the interior DL. Devon Still gives them a big guy who can push the pocket and should take some pressure off Brandon Mebane.

13. Arizona CardinalsKendall Wright, WR, Baylor

The Cardinals have been looking for a #2 WR since trading Anquan Boldin. Early Doucet is a free agent and might not return and Andre Roberts probably isn’t the answer. The fleet of foot Wright has been rising up draft boards in the wake of an excellent 2011 season and would make an excellent option opposite Larry Fitzgerald.

14. Dallas CowboysAlfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska

Terence Newman is overpaid and declining and the Cowboys pass defense ended up being their undoing this season. Dennard is a physical CB who plays the style of football that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan likes. Dennard can play outside or inside and could even help out at safety, if needed. While he isn’t as hyped as his former teammate Prince Amukamara was last year, he’s pretty close in ability.

15. Philadelphia EaglesLuke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

The Eagles’ LB corps is amongst the worst in the league and Kuechly is the best 4-3 LB on the board by a wide margin . He’s a natural fit for their defense and should be a highly productive, if unspectacular, LB for Philadelphia for a long time.

16. New York Jets Courtney Upshaw, DE/LB, Alabama

The Jets have needed a pass-rusher for awhile, and while Aaron Maybin provided a surprising amount of pressure last year, he’s not a 3-down player. Upshaw’s ability to contribute in both the run and pass game, as well as play as either a DE or LB gives him the versatility that Rex Ryan covets.

17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland)- Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

It would be surprising to see Richardson slide this far, and the Jets might be very interested at #16. However, as enticing as Richardson’s potential is, there aren’t a lot of teams who are both in the market for and willing to spend a top pick on a running back. The Bengals need an upgrade from “3 yards and a cloud of dust” Cedric Benson and Richardson should be able to immediately come in and take some pressure off young Andy Dalton.

18. San Diego Chargers Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis

The Chargers could be hoping that David DeCastro slides this far, as they need a replacement for Kris Dielman but that scenario seems unlikely at this point. Antonio Garay wasn’t as effective in 2011 as in 2010 and is unsigned. Poe is an impressive physical specimen with a rare combination of size and athleticism. In the run-heavy AFC West, a monster NT will come in very handy.

19. Chicago Bears Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina

It’s no secret that the Bears need a WR. They haven’t had a franchise receiver in forever and Jay Cutler needs a reliable target. Jeffery is a guy who has a lot of questions surrounding his work ethic and athleticism. If he runs well and shines in the interview process, he will be long gone by #19. However, there is a good chance he slides a bit on draft day. The Bears would be remiss to pass on him at this spot. If Jeffery can stay motivated and productive, he should add an element to the Bears offense which has been missing for awhile.

20. Tennessee TitansWhitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois

A late bloomer with only one year of top collegiate production, Mercilus flashed a lot of pass rush ability this year at Illinois. The Titans have a glaring hole at DE as former 1st rounder Derrick Morgan has been a disappointment and neither Dave Ball nor William Hayes seem like quality starters. At this point, he’s the best option at DE for a 4-3 scheme and a good fit for the Tennessee defense

21. Cincinnati Bengals – Mark Barron, S, Alabama

After their playoff loss to the Texans, current safety Chris Crocker is likely to be run out of town. Even if Crocker returns, the Bengals need an upgrade in their secondary. Barron is the best of a pretty bad safety class, combining good size with solid instincts. He’s not an elite playmaker but has deceptively good hands and should be a sturdy defender in the Bengals’ defensive backfield.  A CB could make some sense here too, with Leon Hall coming off an Achilles tendon injury and Nate Clements on the wrong side of 30.

22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta)- Lamar Miller, RB, Miami

Having already snagged Robert Griffin III earlier, Tom Heckert and Mike Holmgren decide to give him some help in the backfield. Incumbent Peyton Hillis is coming off a very disappointing season and is a free agent. Montario Hardesty can’t stay healthy and no one else is a possible starter. Miller gives the Browns a quality back who adds some speed and athleticism to an underwhelming stable of RB’s.

23. Detroit Lions – Zach Brown, OLB, UNC

The Lions got some surprising production from 2011 free agent acquisitions Justin Durant and Stephen Tulloch but DeAndre Levy is upgradeable and Tulloch is unsigned for 2012. As a group, the 3 LB’s combined for only 5 sacks (2 from the OLB spots). While the Lions need some help along the OL and in the secondary, it would be tough to pass on Brown. The UNC ‘backer has excellent athleticism and plenty of upside. He would immediately add some pass rush to a LB group which has under-produced in that department for a long time.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama

James Farrior is old and in rapid decline and the Steelers need an infusion of young talent in their LB corps. Hightower plays with the hard-hitting, downhill style that Pittsburgh fans have grown accustomed to seeing from their LB’s. He projects as a top run defender with some ability in the pass game and would be a great complement to the smaller, more athletic, Lawrence Timmons.

25. Denver BroncosStephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

Champ Bailey is old, though still productive. The rest of Denver’s CB’s aren’t starter material. Andre Goodman has been targeted frequently and effectively by opposing QB’s. Cassius Vaughn, Jonathan Wilhite and Chris Harris are spare parts and not suited for a starting role. Gilmore is a smart, athletic CB with good size who would be an excellent fit in Dennis Allen’s scheme.

26. New York GiantsCordy Glenn, G/T,  Georgia

The Giants OL proved to be shaky in protecting Eli Manning at times and unreliable at opening running lanes for Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. Glenn is a big, athletic OL who can help out at RT but is probably best suited inside. His pass blocking needs some work and he could use some coaching to improve his technique, but he has elite upside and is an attractive option at this spot in the draft.

27. Houston TexansMichael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

As if the Texans offense (with a healthy Schaub) wasn’t dangerous enough? Gary Kubiak’s passing attack needs a better option opposite Andre Johnson and Floyd could create some real match-up problems for opposing defenses. At #27, the tall Notre Dame WR is simply too good of a value to pass up.

28. San Francisco 49ersMohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers

San Francisco has been searching for a top WR for a long time. Michael Crabtree didn’t work out as expected and the veterans they have brought in haven’t fared much better. Sanu isn’t the downfield threat some 49er fans covet, but he’s got a great skill set and a knack for finding holes in the opponent’s defense. He’d be a perfect fit in Jim Harbaugh’s West Coast Offense and will give Alex Smith a quality receiver other than TE Vernon Davis.

29. Baltimore RavensZebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State

The Ravens don’t have a ton of needs, and their biggest need (ILB) isn’t really a fit value-wise for the #29 pick unless they want to roll the dice on the mercurial Vontaze Burfict. However, Bryant McKinnie is getting up in years, Michael Oher hasn’t fulfilled his potential and Ben Grubbs is a free agent who might not return. Sanders’ ability to play on either side of the line and his athleticism make him a good project for Baltimore who can let him sit and learn for a year if needed.

30. Green Bay Packers – Nick Perry, DE/OLB, USC

Green Bay needs some help up front, especially someone who can get to the QB. They could look at a 5-technique to slide in next to B.J. Raji but grabbing a guy like Perry to play opposite Clay Matthews is irresistible. Matthews saw a decline in his production this year as he faced more double teams than ever before, partly due to the ineffectiveness of Erik Walden. Perry was one of the top pass rushers in the nation in 2011 and should be able to make the conversion to OLB.

31. New England PatriotsFletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State

Regardless of which scheme Bill Belichick employs in 2012, one thing is for sure: he needs more talent up front. If he runs a 3-4 base, he needs a 5-technique to play next to Vince Wilfork. If he’s running a 4-3, Belichick could use a DT to upgrade from 2009 undrafted free agent Kyle Love. Fletcher Cox can fit either scheme and has the ability to disrupt the QB which the Pats’ big guys are missing. Cox also has a sturdier base than some other 1st round DT/DE types and should hold up in the run game.

32. New England Patriots (From New Orleans) – Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin

Anyone who follows the draft knows that it’s unlikely Bill Belichick keeps both of his 1st round picks. One of them is almost certain to be traded for a few of 2011 picks or a 2012 first rounder. However, if he does keep both, he needs to replace veteran center Dan Koppen. While Koppen has been a reliable fixture inside for the Patriots, he’s old, declining and coming off a broken leg. Fill-in’s Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly have held up surprisingly well but the Pats need a long term answer. Konz is the best center in the draft and solidifies the position for the Patriots for the next 5+ years

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